Intercultural Communication and Competence (ICC). Communicating safety instructions to a German climbing forest organization

Research Paper (undergraduate), 2017

18 Pages, Grade: 2,7


Table of contents

List of abbreviations

Management Summary

1. Introduction

2. Analysis of root-causes of complaints

3. Discussion of concepts and theories

4. Recommendations for the climbing forest organization

5. ICC action plan

6. Summary


Overview grid


List of abbreviations

Abbildung in dieser Leseprobe nicht enthalten

Management Summary

Intercultural communication and competence is becoming increasingly important in a globalized world. The present study analyzes the causes of complaints from international customers and trainers at a climbing forest organization with regard to the safety instructions. Hofstede’s cultural di­mensions are used for the comparison between cultures due to their prac­ticability.

The main cultural differences are between individualistic and collectivistic cultures. Customers with individualistic background and low uncertainty avoidance indicator do not like general and abstract rules. Customers with low power distance do not accept orders from superiors. Men from mascu­line societies chose adventure over safety. Customers from collectivistic cultures on the other hand, have a preference for harmony within the group and feel uncomfortable with other complaining guests. The trainers feel frustrated because they cannot understand their customers’ behavior and do not know how to transmit the safety instructions to guests from other cultures.

To improve the customer and staff satisfaction, the organization is recom­mended to organize a workshop for their trainers in order to improve the understanding of their own culture and foreign cultures. In addition, cus­tomers should be assigned to individualistic and collectivistic groups for different approaches regarding the safety instructions. The individualistic group should have a trainer that meets them on eye level and explains them thoroughly the necessity of safety rules. The collectivistic group should have a trainer that establishes a group belonging while keeping authority and giving strict rules. In the trainers’ workshop the trainers have to be assigned to groups according to their ability and authenticity.

Finally, each trainer should establish an own ICC action plan that includes the three dimensions of intercultural communication competence: cogni­tion, motivation and behavior. Applying these measures will help the climb­ing forest organization reducing the number of complaints.

1. Introduction

With increasing movements of goods and people across borders, busi­nesses are facing a culturally more diverse structure of clients and busi­ness partners nowadays. Intercultural communication and competence (ICC) has become a key asset for the success of international enterpris­es.[1] Through ICC, misunderstandings grounded in different standards, values and believes can be overcome and bridges built between cultures.[2] The climbing forest organization that is considered in this study is located in the Black Forest area of Germany and receives guests from different countries owing to the strong tourist sector in the region. It faces great challenges with regard to the perception of its safety instructions due to the different cultural background of the visitors. The organization’s man­agement receives complaints not only from its guests but also its trainers that have to deal with the culturally diverse customer base.[3] After an analysis of the causes of complaints, the study aims at finding solutions for the climbing forest organization to reduce the number of complaints by applying ICC skills. Reducing complaints through ICC skills will not only lead to a higher customer satisfaction but also a higher em­ployer satisfaction and a better management performance as communica- tional skills can be used for all interactions in the organization.

2. Analysis of root-causes of complaints

From the iceberg perspective, one has to distinguish between observable and non-observable cultural aspects. The behavior of guests and trainers can be observed while the causes of complaints are unobservable and rooted in the different cultural values.[4] The high number of complaints re­ceived by the climbing forest organization shows that most customers are coming from low context cultures where directness is one of the cultural traits.[5] In order to match the observed behavior with underlying causes, each type of complaint is looked separately.

Guests who complain about strict safety rules These guests are most likely to come from individualistic and particularistic cultures that do not like to follow abstract general rules. According to Hof­stede and Trompenaar, people from this cultural group follow rules that are dependent on the individual rather than rules that apply to all.[6] The dissatisfaction can be reinforced by a weak uncertainty avoidance indica­tor (UAI). People with a weak UAI background think that formal rules are redundant because they see themselves responsible for their own deci­sions which is in line with the individualistic world view. This does not nec­essarily lead to people violating rules rather than to their discomfort with paternalism.[7] From the climbing forest organization’s customer base, Ital­ians and French are highly individualistic, followed by Swiss and Germans. Except for Switzerland and Germany, the countries in the organization’s customer base have a very high UAI however.[8]

Guests who complain about instructors always asking them to follow the safety rules These guests are most likely to have a low power distance culture. This group of people does not automatically accept the instructions of a superi­or or, as in this case, instructors. They want to be included in decisions and allowed to voice their opinions.[9] Their social interactions are based on egalitarianism rather than respect for authority.[10] From the customer base, especially Israel has to be emphasized as a country with very low power distance, followed by Switzerland, Germany and Italy.[11]

Guests who don’t follow the safety rules

Guests not following the safety rules can again be related to a low power distance culture following the same argumentation as the previous part. In addition, masculinity traits can increase the tendency for disobeying or­ders. Men in masculine societies bear the values of “advancement”, “com­petition” and “achievement” and take decisions on their own rather than in accord with a group.[12] These characteristics can contribute to finishing the course fast and impress others is more important to the guests than follow­ing the safety rules. From the customer base, Swiss and Italians have the highest masculinity index.[13]

Guests who complain about other complaining guests Those guests are likely to have a collectivist cultural background because collectivist cultures aim at establishing harmony within the group. Other guests disrupting this harmony will lead to their own discomfort.[14] This line of argumentation also counts for feminine cultures where cooperation and consensus are strived for.[15] From the customer base, Bulgaria and Roma­nia are collectivist cultures, followed by Israel that received a score in be­tween individualistic and collectivistic culture. Those three countries are also considered to have feminine societies. French are also said to have a feminine culture, at the same time count as individualistic though.[16]

Trainers’ complaints

It is the trainers’ task to offer a pleasant stay at the climbing forest organi­zation to their customers and at the same time provide for security. Com­ing from an individualistic culture, the trainers are frustrated because their expectation of appropriate behavior on part of the guests, are not ful­filled.[17] According to Hall, not being aware of the own culture prevents people to understand foreign cultures.[18] This explains why the trainers complain about the behavior of their guests as there is no mutual empa­thy.

3. Discussion of concepts and theories

The iceberg model can be used as a first source of analysis especially in low context cultures where information is explicitly exchanged and pat­terns of behavior easily observable. When observing a certain behavior, one can go into finding the underlying value determining that behavior. However, it might lead to a missing analysis of high context cultures where behavior patterns are more difficult to observe due to the implicit transmis­sion of information.[19]

Therefore the separation into high and low context cultures by Hall is an important step for identifying underlying cultural values. It draws the atten­tion also to the nonappearance of expected reactions and allows the ana­lyst to look for the reasons behind less visible behavioral patterns.[20] How­ever, cultures are more diverse than distinguishing them into two groups. A set of tools is needed to categorize identified values into comparable categories. The Model developed by Hofstede introduces more dimen­sions into the analysis and weights them by assigning scores to countries he has been studying. This enables a direct and quantitative comparison of different cultures and is the reason why it was used as the major source for the above analysis. Some aspects of Trompennaars’ model of culture have been used as complementary explanations for certain behavior. Since it is an extension of previous models, including Hofstede’s, it gives some additional information especially when looking at cultural differences but does not deviate from the basic characteristics established by Hof­stede.[21] Some additional characteristics such as the concept of time were not suited for the study as the present case is not dealing with long-term business relationships but a short-term customer contact.

When applying theoretical models, one always has to keep in mind that they can only abstract a certain part of reality. Culture is constantly evolv­ing and no constant figure. Especially with people moving across borders and cultural exchange, may it be through direct contact or through indirect influence such as movies, cultural behavior alters. Other events such as wars can also play a crucial role in the evolution of culture that can influ­ence and change the behavior of a whole population group. Therefore, data collection has to be continuously updated and older data should only be used carefully.[22]

Applying the Hofstede scores can consequently only be done to a certain degree as his data collection has not been updated since 2001.[23] He is furthermore criticized for forming cultural groups according to the geo­graphic borders of countries while cultures can differ within countries and include trans-border groups.[24] Moreover, categorizing people into certain cultural groups always bears the danger of missing individual behavior that doesn’t fall within a predefined cluster. Therefore, the concepts can always be used only as a first reference and framework that has to be supple­mented by own observations and analysis.[25]

While Hofstede as well as other researchers focus on analyzing other cul­tures, the great strength of Hall’s approach is that he also emphasizes the examination of one’s own cultural thinking and behavior. He concludes that this approach has to be taken as a first step to understanding foreign cultures.[26] As mentioned above, this aspect should not be neglected in the case of the climbing forest organization.

4. Recommendations for the climbing forest organization

The fact that the organization also receives complaints from its own train­ers about the behavior of the clients shows that the trainers are not aware of their clients’ cultural backgrounds and how to deal with different cultural perceptions. The organization should therefore consider investing into or­ganizing a workshop together with an interculturalist in order to raise the level of cultural awareness of its own staff. Such a workshop could be booked at the Society for Intercultural Education, Training and Research.[27] The trainers have to learn that different cultural groups express their dis­satisfaction in different ways. While people with an individualistic back­ground express their discontent in a more confrontational way such as complaining directly about the strict safety rules, people with a collectivist culture show their discontent in a more indirect way such as not following the rules without directly complaining about them.[28] As individualism and collectivism are the main source of conflict between groups, it makes sense to develop two different approaches for explaining the safety rules. As far as possible, the guests should be assigned to re­spective groups that are culturally homogeneous and the trainers should transmit the instructions in a way that fits the groups’ cultural background. From Hofstede’s classification, we can see that Bulgarians and Romani­ans belong to a collectivistic society while the other countries are individu­alistic. Israel is a blend of both but leaning more towards individualism. Bulgarians and Romanians also have the highest score for power dis­tance, far above the other nationalities, paired with a high preference for uncertainty avoidance.[29] As a strategy to target this group, the following recommendations are made:

- Take the time to develop a feeling of group belonging between the guests that don’t know each other yet. Therefore an introduction round should be included before starting the instructions to get to know each other. In addition, safety guidelines can be practiced in mixed groups such as how to use the technical equipment. The goal of these exercis-


[1] Cf. Maass-Sagolla (2011a): p. 1

[2] Cf. Gartenschlaeger (2016b): slide 31

[3] Cf. Gartenschlaeger (2016a): p. 1

[4] Cf. Gartenschlaeger (2016b): slide 18

[5] Cf. Maass-Sagolla (2011a): p. 13; Gartenschlaeger (2016b): slide 18

[6] Cf. Maass-Sagolla (2011a): p. 21; 35

[7] Cf. Maass-Sagolla (2011a): p. 27

[8] Cf. Appendix

[9] Cf. Maass-Sagolla (2011a): p. 19

[10] Cf. Gartenschlaeger (2016b): slide 18

[11] Cf. Appendix

[12] Cf. Maass-Sagolla (2011a): p. 24

[13] Cf. Appendix

[14] Cf. Maass-Sagolla (2011a): p. 21

[15] Cf. Maass-Sagolla (2011a): p. 24

[16] Cf. Appendix

[17] Cf. Maass-Sagolla (2011b): p. 26

[18] Cf. Maass-Sagolla (2011a): p. 11

[19] Cf. Maass-Sagolla (2011a): p. 13

[20] Cf. Maass-Sagolla (2011a): p. 12

[21] Cf. Maass-Sagolla (2011a): p. 34

[22] Cf. Maass-Sagolla (2011a): p. 26; 29

[23] Cf. Hofstede (2001)

[24] Cf. Maass-Sagolla (2011a): p. 29

[25] Cf. Maass-Sagolla (2011b): p. 5

[26] Cf. Maass-Sagolla (2011a): p. 11

[27] Cf. Maass-Sagolla (2011a): p. 2f

[28] Cf. Maass-Sagolla (2011b): p. 26

[29] Cf. Maass-Sagolla (2011b): p. 19

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Intercultural Communication and Competence (ICC). Communicating safety instructions to a German climbing forest organization
University of Applied Sciences Münster  (Institut für techhnische Betriebswirtschaft)
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intercultural, communication, competence, communicating, german
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Albina Ibrahimi (Author), 2017, Intercultural Communication and Competence (ICC). Communicating safety instructions to a German climbing forest organization, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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