So far, problems in dealing with people from other cultures were mentioned. But which characteristics and skills specifically help to deal with these challenges and create an improvement? Addressing these concrete characteristics and skills is another aim of the project (see Aims of the project: Work packages).
An important aspect is intercultural perception. Our perception of people is shaped in a culture-specific way, so that a culture-dependent image of people is developed. If the interaction partner belongs to a different culture, s/he deviates from the behaviour we are familiar with. When these deviating behavioural patterns are repeatedly followed by people of that different culture, one is dealing with culture-specific behavioural patterns. To notice this is a first step towards developing understanding. In order for cooperation to succeed, expectations of all interaction partners involved need to be adjusted by both sides (Thomas, 2014).
It is also important to have an accurate self-perception. This includes knowing my self-image: Which group do I belong to? What patterns of thought and action are normal for my group? Which expectations, wishes, values, and attitudes do I have? What goals are important to me, what are my motives for action? (Layes, 2013). Self-perception also includes knowing how my actions, gestures, facial expressions, and appearance appear to the outside world. In short: I know what impression I make.
In order to be able to judge the actions of my interaction partner correctly, intercultural knowledge is particularly important. After comparing the self-image with the image of the interaction partner, it is noticed: "We are different". In order to assess behaviour appropriately, it is important to know which behaviour patterns are 'normal' in the culture of my interaction partner (Thomas, 2014).
Empathy is a quality that is extremely important in this context (Bolten, 2001). Empathy helps to improve my self-perception and to develop the image I have of the interaction partner more accurately. Through empathy, it is possible to put oneself in the partner's place and to investigate the question "What are the motives and incentives of my partner for her/his behaviour?
Within the interaction with people, communication is one of the most important components. Precisely in communication – not least due to different languages – major problems often arise. The risk of misunderstanding is very high, especially when using idioms, sarcasm, or irony. The ability of appropriate and effective intercultural communication is therefore highly relevant. Mostly, one of the communication partners uses a language which is not her/his mother tongue. In addition, knowledge of language customs and symbolic actions as well as the gestures of the foreign culture is needed. The development of appropriate and effective intercultural communication requires, amongst various skills, an interest in other languages (Thomas, A., 2016).
All these characteristics and skills interact and help to develop intercultural competence. As already mentioned, intercultural competence is a complex construct. It includes various skills and characteristics. cannot be defined uniformly. Interculturally competent persons have the ability to recognise situations of cultural overlap and to understand the processes and the effects of their own and other “organisational” (cultural) systems in these situations (Thomas, 2016). Based on this understanding, action strategies can be derived that take into account the goals of all persons involved, so that the situation can be managed to all parties satisfaction, while the mutual understanding for the respective other’s culture is promoted. Amongst the conditions for developing intercultural competence is an interest in intercultural contact and the willingness to deal with foreign organisational (cultural) systems (Thomas, 2016).
Overall, the acquisition of intercultural action competence can be seen as a learning and development process. The acquisition of knowledge about foreign cultures should go hand in hand with personal contact and the critical examination of one's own culture (Thomas, 2016).