The single most important factor affecting cultural communication is empathy. Several authors also suggest self-awareness as a critical element of becoming an effective global leader. I would offer that self-awareness is the first step toward empathy as an individual must first have an understanding of the self before one can grasp the “other.” Moreover, being cognizant of and then working to regulate biases takes a certain level of maturity and self-awareness. As Goleman, Boyatzis & McKee (2002) suggest “self-awareness facilitates both empathy and self-management, and these two, in combination, allow effective relationship management.” It has also been noted that personally literate leaders, those who have developed self-awareness, know that different people need to be led differently (Rosen, 2000). Munter (1993) adds that when communicating across cultures one should try to maintain an open attitude of patience, tolerance, objectivity, empathy and, respect; all of which will increase an individual’s understanding, cooperation, and effectiveness.
Moving beyond the individual level industries that currently operate in open systems and that will soon be operating in what may be termed transparent systems will require a workforce to have what Boyatzis (2008) coined as three clusters of competencies:
- Cognitive competencies, such as systems thinking and pattern recognition;
- Emotional intelligence competencies, including self-awareness and self-management competencies, most notably emotional self-control; and
- Social intelligence competencies; including social awareness and relationship management competencies, such as empathy and teamwork.
Marquardt & Berger, (2000) tie the dimensions of self-awareness and empathy to the concept of servant leadership. They note “servant leaders must be able to see their own values, backgrounds, and experiences and to recognize that thinking that one’s own background or area of experience is superior to other can be a fatal flaw” (pg. 22).
In short, empathy is the antidote for ethnocentrism.
Boyatzis, R. (2008). Competencies in the 21st century. Journal of Management Development, 27(1), 5-12
Goleman, D., Boyatzis, R. E., & McKee, A. (2002). Primal leadership: Realizing the power of emotional intelligence. Boston: Harvard Business Press.
Marquardt, M. J., & Berger, N. O. (2000). Global leaders for the 21st century. Albany: SUNY Press.
Munter, M. (1993). Cross-cultural communication for managers. Business Horizons, 36(3), 69-78.
Rosen, R. H. (2000). Global literacies: Lessons on business leadership and national cultures. New York: Simon & Schuster.