Academic journal article Public Administration Review

Dealing with Them: Preparing State and Local Officials for the Cross-Cultural Challenge

Academic journal article Public Administration Review

Dealing with Them: Preparing State and Local Officials for the Cross-Cultural Challenge

Article excerpt

Because encounters between state and local officials and the representatives of foreign companies and governments have become daily occurrences, state and local governments are being driven to develop methods for dealing with them. According to Rose (1991), most states have entered the arena of international commerce because of their role in promoting exports and recruiting foreign investment. In addition, they are involved in a variety of exchanges and visits that cut across international boundaries.

Some of these encounters are likely to help determine which cities and states will thrive in the emerging global economy, which will merely survive, and which may spiral downward. Recognizing this, the states alone spent nearly $92 million in 1990 attracting foreign investment and developing exports--more than double the amount of five years earlier (National Association of State Development Agencies, 1988, 1990). Some of the activities involved--disseminating materials about the jurisdiction, organizing trade shows and missions, and circulating trade leads to potential exporters--are widely practiced and reasonably well understood.

One element that continues to be problematical, however, is how much and what kind of preparation should be undertaken for interactions with people from foreign cultures. This may be in the nature of the issue. Deep understanding of someone else's culture involves setting aside one's own values and mindset. That can be difficult not only in dealing with potential export customers and foreign investors but also with visiting VIPs, tourists, immigrants, refugees, guest workers, exchange students, and illegal aliens. Thus, the problem of preparation confronts not only economic developers and elected and appointed officials but social service deliverers, educators, public safety personnel, and health workers as well.

At one extreme, preparation might be nothing more than a glance at the visitors' names, organizational affiliations, and titles before opening the door to greet them. At the other, it could involve months of language study, readings and lectures, sensitivity training, case analyses, experiential exercises, simulations, and even site visits.

There are instances when one extreme or the other may be appropriate, but there are times when the latter approach would be wasteful. And the former approach, while inexpensive,' might end up being very costly--for example, if a cultural blunder cost the city or state a foreign investment worth hundreds of jobs and millions of dollars in tax revenues. However, training and development programs for the public sector rarely include cross-cultural elements (Van Wart, Cayer, and Cook, 1993). In this article, we provide the public administrator with tools for thinking systematically about techniques of cross-cultural training and making cost-efficient decisions about what is appropriate in different situations.

Training Methods and Rigor

Social learning theory (see gray box) and research done in multinational corporations suggest that rigor--the degree of cognitive involvement of the trainee--is central to successful cross-cultural preparation (Bandura, 1977; Tung, 1981; Black and Mendenhall, 1990). Operationally, rigor means the duration and intensity of training as measured by the total number of hours of training and the period over which it is experienced. Ten hours of training received over two days, for example, is more rigorous than an hour a week for ten weeks Black and Mendenhall, 1991).

Cross-cultural training methods can be grouped according to the amount of rigor they usually involve. Factual training methods tend to be low in rigor. These include area briefings, lectures, and readings. Analytical training methods--which can include films, traditional language training, case studies, and sensitivity training--are usually moderate in rigor. Experiential training--interactive or immersion language training, role-playing techniques, cultural assimilators and simulations, and site visits or training within the foreign setting--tend to be intense in rigor. …

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