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Intercultural Communications in the US Military

Intercultural Communications in the US Military


Considering the adaptive nature and the ever-changing military operations in asymmetric and dynamic warfare environments, intercultural communications has emerged as a significant asset that enables the U S military personnel to optimally and effectively execute mission objectives in foreign lands. Many Military leaders have appreciated the critical need for the military personnel to be socially, cognitively and culturally adept so as to effectively meet the growing spectrum and changing needs of varied missions the Armed forces are currently facing.

The emergent nature of the military missions has increased the need to have adaptive interpersonal skills and interaction, in addition to the continuous technology advancement which serves to maximize the distance between the service members and the threat before them.

Still, the United States is likely to face military missions in future that increasingly involve efforts directed on reconstruction, stabilization, humanitarian endeavors and security operations. Such types of military mission often call for close interaction between the personnel on the ground and the counter parts from other different cultural backgrounds, including adversaries and allies.

Considering the above reality, the demonstrated need for the armed forces personnel to negotiate, communicate and influence members from difference cultures, and the agencies involved in such missions, it is equally as important as the ability of the armed forces to effectively use their weapons.

Today’s military men are poised to work in complex range of missions as often as possible. The combination of regional expertise, language and cultural capabilities has become increasingly important considering the emerging requirements for allied forces operating in the ground level to interact with the local population.

The Department of Defense has therefore put considerable emphasis on the training and education of regional expertise, language and cultural capabilities in an effort to meet the above demands. In addition, considering past experiences, it is especially difficult to come up with predictions of the intercultural partnership and locations that would benefit from such kind of specialized training.

Consequently, the Department of Defense has resolved to come up and execute procedures and policies that offer the requisite education, awareness, and distributed training, while at the same time underscoring the significance of the ability of an individual to rapidly adapt to the changing operational demands.

Developing a Cross-Cultural Competence Framework

One of the critical step in coming up with a cross-cultural framework in the United States military, is recognizing the of extant literature contributions, especially the vast study that has been crucial in cross-cultural development. This recognition should not only be in expatriate assignments, but should also be relevant to the military contexts.

In an effort to increase the chances of successful expatriation, a number of multinational corporations have taken into consideration the role of language skills, personality characteristics and prior international experience while selecting expatriates envisioned as the most adept in the contexts of cultural diversity (Reid 10).

The Department of Defense should come up with a framework that explicates the application and significance of cultural-general and not cultural specific. This approach will equip the armed forces with the required knowledge to understand cultural differences and navigate successfully in cultural-complex situations.

Looking at it from a management point of view, there exist three overarching themes which emerge to sustain and create a competitive global workforce. Attaining credibility in a cross-cultural context can be considered as the initial step any expatriate should try to take when entering a new working environment in an international setting.

The above needs underscore the importance of effective communication in addition to the critical need to interact with different people from different cultural backgrounds to encourage successful intercultural interaction and shared values.  At the surface level, however, such cultural dimensions may appear to be relevant to any management practice, and the underlying tenets hold true for military operations success, particularly considering the cultural complexities often witnessed in combat environments, provincial reconstruction efforts and disaster relief/ humanitarian assistance operations (Laurence 489).

Competence in cross-cultural communication covers a broad domain of the military personnel capabilities and qualities deemed crucial to mission carried out in novel cultural settings. It can be best descried as a set of cultural attitudes and behaviors integrated into the methods of practice of an agency, a system, or its professionals which enables to operate effectively in cross-cultural set ups.

Cross-cultural communication competence is important in the United States military as considering the increasing demands of the armed forces to have a set of culture-general skills, knowledge, attributes and abilities. Such competence can be achieved through training, education, and experience that provide the military personnel with the ability to effectively operate within any environment that has a complex cultural set up. Cross-cultural communication competence can further be augmented by the acquisition of linguistic, cultural and regional proficiency, and through cross-cultural contexts application (Laurence 500).

Sustaining Cross-Cultural Competence in Various Military Levels

In the military, competence in cross-cultural communication is regarded as a critical capability that assists personnel to be ready for any mission and meet the challenges before them. Such competence can be depicted to permeate various organization levels, starting with one self and expanding outward towards the adversary. Inter-cultural communication competence can be acquired starting with one self through understanding personal values, beliefs, and biases in an effort to better appreciate other different cultural identities.

Subsequently, an individual has to work with other people as a team, even within the United States, who originate from different backgrounds and regions. For one to effectively communicate and lead any given group or team, personnel have to posses adequate inter-cultural communication competence to work together with those members who are different from themselves.

Cross-cultural communication competence is also significant in promoting partnerships with host and coalitions nations. The accepted behaviors, practices, and mission goals may widely differ across forces, and in order to integrate and coordinate such commands, success will heavily depend on understanding, adapting, and understanding these cultural differences.

The above shows that cross-cultural communication competence is imperative at the strategic, operational, and tactical levels, having knowledge on the culture adversary offers the insight required to effectively stabilize and negotiate the current operational environment (Grandjean 20)

Cross-cultural communication competence also plays a significant part in leadership functions, as results and effective cross-cultural interactions and effective behavioral communicating skills with other cultures. Leaders are often charged with the responsibility of leading teams in different missions, forcing such leaders to meet operational needs and effectively perform in cross-cultural environments.

Therefore, leaders have to be able to interact successfully with others from different cultures, be in a position to read their intentions, create alliances and build trust, all while influencing the actions and motivation of individuals. In addition, leaders can make use of cross-cultural communication competence to tolerate, integrate and bridge differences that result in congruent communication perspectives and pathways in the execution of military missions.

The cross-cultural communication competence also assist to hone the capabilities of leaders, such as strategic agility, systems thinking, coming up with strategic networks, forecasting team strengths, and ultimately preparing, planning, assessing, and executing operations.

Distributed Training and Cross-Cultural Simulation in the Military

Most of the organizations, that include the military, are redirecting their efforts towards distributed training, particularly for sustaining and training cross-cultural communication competence. The United States Office of Performance Technology, together with the United States International Revenue Service, have come up with a cross-cultural communication distribution model with integrates several learning technologies, including interactive video teletraining, computer-based training, information delivery systems that are based on webs, knowledge management centers, electronic performance support systems (McDonald 12). These training programs are intended to serve to improve cross-cultural training quality, cut-down on operational costs, promote continuous learning and increase training availability.

The United States military is also focused on increasing its online and distributed cross-cultural training in order to offer access to the large number of civilian and military personnel working outside the country. Distributed training offers military personnel the chance to receive such training on demand, making the training virtually accessible anytime and anywhere. Such form of training helps to make sure that military personnel do not face a predicament where they do not have the critical capabilities or the requisite information needed to advance and succeed in that context.

Future Directions

Institutionalizing cross-cultural communication competence may call for an organizational cultural change through the use of a multi-prolonged approach through functions which include selection, recruiting, systems development, promotion, research, training, mission operations, and education for success. Ultimately, successful institutionalization depends on securing priority in the strategic policy, plan, and doctrine, together with the supporting budget. In addition, successful implementation needs a measurement strategy that is valid, both at the organizational and individual level, where a demand signal is in a position to identify operational requirements.

The feedback system would allow for rapid and agile adjustment, making sure that the institution is in a position to adapt to the changes.  To help with meeting the above named operational requirements, the Department of Defense recently came up with its cross-cultural competence portal.

The website offers several cross-cultural resources that include; Training and education inform of e-learning, culture clips additional resource, and simulation training, unit-level and individual assessments, information pertinent for leaders at the operational and regional levels, emerging and current research in the field,  and current events, news and other additional resources (Reid 7).

Training the United States armed forces in cross-cultural communication competence using distributed training as well as other experiential learning approaches can save time, money and lives. Cross-cultural communication competence offers individuals with the means for an adaptable, a culturally appropriate, and acceptable management mode. This approach will aid to improve coping mechanisms related to unexpected events and cultural shock. Cross-cultural communication competence training will also serve as a means of reducing the associated uncertainty that comes about during the interaction of the military with foreign nations.  In addition, such training will act as a means of enhancing the coping abilities expatriates, through reducing disorientation and stress.


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Works Cited

Grandjean, Behymer, et al. Assessing the development of cross-cultural competence in soldiers. United States Army Research Institute for the Behavioral and Social Sciences. Technical Report 1277, 2010

Laurence, J. Military leadership and the complexity of combat and culture. Military Psychology, 2011: 23(5), 489–501

McDonald, Johnston., et al. Developing and managing cross-cultural competence within Department of Defense: Recommendations for learning and assessment. Paper submitted to Deputy Under Secretary of Defense (Plans). Washington, DC: OSD, 2008

Reid, Steinke, et al. A proposed developmental sequence for cross-cultural competence training in the Department of Defense. Report prepared by the Defense Equal Opportunity Management Institute for the Defense Language Office, 2012





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