Posted: March 22nd, 2023

The Impact of Intercultural Sensitivity Training

The Impact of Intercultural Sensitivity Training on Business Communication


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Contemporary organizations have experienced significant changes in demographics, especially due to the interaction of individuals from different cultures. Many companies attract workers from various cultural backgrounds, a factor that has made them highly diverse. The changing demographics demand an increase in public relations to ensure that employees are capable of relating adequately with internal and external stakeholders. It is critical to guarantee that people understand and practice multicultural communication to run productive organizations. Public relations refer to the need for effective business communications. Hence, employees should develop intercultural sensitivity and competencies in public relations (business communications) to operate productively in the multicultural environment (Beaverstock, 2017). While leaders understand the need to create a diverse business environment, they have not highlighted the role of intercultural sensitivity and competencies in business communications. Hence, the purpose of the proposed study is to establish the significance of cultural sensitivity and skills in business communication. The study will be conducted in the field of public relations, which plays a critical role in building effective organizations with positive connections internally and externally.

Problem Statement

Globalization has increased the level of complexity in multinational organizations due to the improved interaction of employees from diverse cultures. In addition, companies do business with customers from different cultures. In such circumstances, communication plays an important role in improving public relations and ensuring productivity and profitability of a business (Krishnan & Kirubamoorthy, 2017). However, communication is not always easy when dealing with a culturally diverse workforce due to the potential for conflicts.  Intercultural conflicts affect the ability of employees to work together in positive relationships. Unfortunately, such adverse situations are common in the modern working environment, especially in multinational organizations due to the diversity and inadequate understanding of underlying differences. Notably, many companies still lack effective programs for training employees to become more culturally sensitive and competent to communicate with internal and external stakeholders (Beaverstock, 2017). Such limitation affects the public relations, which is an important factor in the highly competitive global environment. Companies can only be competitive and productive if their employees understand the importance of intercultural communication. Managers should understand the importance of cross-cultural sensitivity training programs to implement them in their workplaces and improve internal and external interactions.

Significance of the Study

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Globalization is one of the factors that has contributed to cultural diversity in today’s work environment and increased the role of cultural sensitivity in leadership. Additionally, the changing business world has affected how organizations perform in a culturally diverse environment (Krishnan & Kirubamoorthy, 2017). While some businesses have successfully achieved their international goals despite the impact of cultural diversity, others have failed to create a culturally sensitive environment to improve communication and productivity. Consequently, some people found themselves with the need to adjust their cultural views, particularly when working on international projects. With the increased globalization of businesses, people may be required to work on projects outside their culture or region. The expansion of companies beyond the national boundaries involves some members of the management teams to represent these interests (Beaverstock, 2017). Therefore, people have to work with individuals from other cultures, who may have different perspectives and practices.

The management of multinational companies has the role of developing the means to ensure that people working on global tasks are equipped with the necessary skills to qualify for these responsibilities. The proposed study investigates the impact of intercultural sensitivity training programs on improving business communication and public relations in multinationals. Hence, the results will play a critical role in improving the current programs in companies that have already implemented them and designing new approaches where they have not been adopted. The findings from the study will inform best practice in the implementation and use of intercultural sensitivity training programs in diverse organizational settings. Managers should learn about the role of such programs in ensuring that their employees understand effective communication inside and outside their workplaces. It is critical for workers to understand and respect cultural differences to remain competitive in a contemporary global working environment. Consequently, companies will have better working relations with other firms and with different stakeholders.

Literature Review (Theoretical Model)


Culture is the association of communications shared by a group of people, including their common experiences, shared values and perceptions, and shared consciousness that have meaning and significance to the group. Culture is the organization of practices, patterns, and behavior that are unique to people living in a particular part of the world. The values, experiences, and communication practices explain the meaning, importance, and operations of the organization. Culture plays a vital role in guiding the actions and behaviors of individuals and groups. It consists of the traditional values that have been passed from one generation to another through the sharing of ideas (Beaverstock, 2017). Cultural diversity, therefore, results from the sharing of these traditions and practices, which sets the moral guidelines in the society. Hence, when seeking to build positive relationships, it is important to understand different cultures. In addition, it is imperative to appreciate that there are different cultures among different people (Matveev, 2017). Some differences are easily understood while for others, it takes time to learn and comprehend.

A great deal of cultural diversity characterizes modern organizations. The cultural diversity is the quality in which individuals from different cultures live together and respect the variances in their beliefs and practices. People in different parts of the world have their unique views and perceptions of behavior that affect how they interact, share ideas, and create order in a community (Matveev & Nelson, 2004). The impact of cultural diversity extends from the environment outside the workplace towards how employees and their leaders react to different situations and relate to external stakeholders, including customers. It is a significant issue that influences how managers and companies make decisions. The contribution of employees and their involvement in decision-making is defined by various aspects of culture (Haghirian, 2012). It is critical that business leaders identify and explain how companies are affected by the culture of all stakeholders.

Intercultural Communication

One of the most critical outcomes of intercultural sensitivity training is improved intercultural communication. Martin and Nakayama (2013) define intercultural communication as an aspect that involves sharing of information and ideas with individuals from different cultural backgrounds, such as religious, racial, ethnic, social, and educational groups. The communication outcome strives to understand the way individuals from diverse cultures share ideas and perceive the world. Notably, culture has an important impact on the way people experience different aspects of their lives, including business. Consequently, cultural implications are vital for companies to operate productively in a global arena. Jandt (2017) adds that inadequate cultural sensitivity in the operations of a company can have negative implications because employees may feel uncomfortable when relating with customers. Besides, such a limitation might alienate employees working in other parts of the world towards the goals and objectives of the business. Since all these failures affect the business’ success, it is critical for managers to implement effective programs to achieve intercultural sensitivity and competence to improve communication.

Multinational corporations work with individuals from different cultural backgrounds. Hence, it is critical to support effective communication between workers and with their employers. Consequently, managers face the challenge of adopting measures to promote successful communication by eradicating cultural barriers that might hinder the process or create conflicts. Intercultural communication is necessary and takes diverse forms, including verbal (language) and non-verbal (personal space, and gestures), which express emotions and meaning in context. However, Martin and Nakayama (2013) suggest that intercultural communication is the most challenging aspect because of the issues related to diversity. Although employees might believe in their potential to be culturally sensitive, it is necessary to remember that the contemporary world is generally ethnocentrism (Jandt, 2017). Hence, organizations should provide adequate support for programs aimed at making workplaces culturally sensitive.

Cultural Sensitivity

Gaining the knowledge and understanding of what defines culture is important in becoming more culturally sensitive. The most critical model in understanding this aspect of culture is the iceberg model. Hence, by applying this approach, it is only possible to see and understand some elements of culture while others remain hidden.  For instance, in the model, people can see what is out of the water, and only a few aspects of culture are visible to people (Haghirian, 2012). Hence, learning about a culture is an attempt to see and understand all aspects, including those hidden beneath the “iceberg.” The effort is relevant to individuals with different backgrounds and values. Cultural sensitivity allows people to see and understand the diverse cultures to the point of appreciating and working with the differences.

As the workplace becomes diverse, it is critical for businesses to identify options in adapting to these changes, including ensuring that its employees are culturally sensitive. Cultural understanding allows employees to relate with people from different cultural origins, within and outside the organization, without experiencing conflict in the firm. The skills needed include identifying ways to help people avoid making insensitive remarks and actions that may affect their relationships with others (Matveev & Nelson, 2004). Additionally, it ensures that the leaders of companies treat their subordinates in a manner that shows respect for their diverse views in the organizations. Cultural diversity allows workers to acknowledge that people are from different ethnic groups, religions, and nationalities. Therefore, they act and treat them in a way that shows respect for this diversity and demonstrates that they have positive attitudes towards mutual differences (Oliver, Foscarini, Sinclair, Nicholls, & Loriente, 2018). Intercultural sensitivity defines how the members of the organization relate and share ideas regardless of the perceived differences.

Model of Intercultural Sensitivity

Therefore, to develop a deeper understanding of intercultural sensitivity, it is imperative to look at a theoretical model related to the subject. The Developmental Model of Intercultural Sensitivity (DMIS) created by Bennett in 1986 explains how people engage with others from different cultures. Bennett (1986) demonstrates that intercultural sensitivity can be organized into six stages of complexity in cultural perception: denial, defense, minimization, acceptance, adaptation, and integration stages. The denial stage is characterized by a strong conviction that a person’s culture is superior. People are generally isolated and refuse to accept the existence of other cultures. They are motivated to challenge or experience the reality of intercultural sensitivity.

Bennett’s (1986) second phase is the defense stage where one’s culture is believed to be more evolved than others. In this stage, people identify and express negative stereotypes associated with other groups as a way of showing their dominance over them. The phase involves open confrontation against different cultures and groups as a way of reacting to the constant threat against their cultural beliefs.

For the minimization stage, people experience some differences between their culture and that of others, but the perceptions of similarities exceed the differences they experience. The phase includes the recognition of other people’s foods, practices, and aspects of their customs (Lewis et al., 2017). However, they focus on the similarities, particularly on the physical nature.

Acceptance of the differences occurs on the fourth stage. In this aspect, people do not agree with views of others. Such individuals would learn about other cultural ways and even acknowledge the impact of cultural differences on human life.

Bennett’s fifth stage is the adaptation of differences. In this phase, people perceive a wide range of worldviews and empathize with the experiences of others. They express appropriate behavior when they interact with others from various cultures and attempt to act according to their views on cultural differences. The final stage entails integration. At this point, individuals can smoothly transit from their cultural aspects towards an entirely different view depicted by others.

Researchers have explored intercultural sensitivity and its relationship with setting up a global company. Hammer, Bennett, and Wiseman (2003) observed that intercultural sensitivity is a critical aspect in both global and academic perspectives. They developed the Intercultural Development Inventory (IDI) to measure the perception of cultural differences using the DMIS. Organizations and individual employees can use IDI to assess their intercultural sensitivity levels and the impact it has on performance and profitability. Hammer et al. (2003) indicate that intercultural sensitivity is an issue that affects people equally, particularly in a globalized world. As such, understanding its impact can help harmonize divergent views.

Intercultural Sensitivity Training

Training is necessary to ensure that employees are culturally sensitive and to improve relationships between individuals within and outside the organization. The primary objective of training is to guarantee cognitive awareness and understanding of cultural differences inherent in individuals and groups. The process further plays a major role in enhancing intercultural interactions. Organizations should assimilate the knowledge of cultures to establish an effective corporate culture that understands and appreciates differences (Rudd & Lawson, 2007). The commitment to improve cross-cultural communication within and outside the organization as part of the organizational culture should be the central goal in cultural sensitivity training (Chebium, 2015). The exercise should include effective ways of communicating and anticipating communication challenges and addressing them to create a conducive environment for diverse employees. Hence, organizations should include cultural training as essential parts of their cultural awareness efforts to prevent potential issues that might arise from lack of understanding of cultural differences. The knowledge would play an essential role in improving business communication and public relations.

Business Communication (PR)

Business communication, as part of public relations, plays a critical role in enhancing the image and reputation of an organization. Matveev and Nelson (2004) reveal that business success largely depends on strong communication to improve the perception of the stakeholders regarding the company. Effective communication is at the core of multinational efforts to achieve goals and objectives, especially when convincing stakeholders across the world about the quality of their products and services. As firms expand their operations to new global markets, they have to consider the role of business communication in appealing to the local and global clientele. The understanding is critical in demonstrating how the firm will succeed in generating revenue from sales in the new market. The capacity of employees to convey information in a culturally sensitive manner determines the level of success in the global market. Communication is effective when the management and employees are capable of overcoming various cultural barriers that might hinder success and create conflicts.

Hence, to align fully with the new markets, the organization should appreciate the local culture and assess the impact on its communicative capability. It is worth noting that a two-way communication allows an effective flow of business information. However, since the employees might not determine the response from the second party, such as a client, it is possible to influence the communication context by understanding the culture of the recipient of information. Hence, business communication is largely associated with the cultural understanding of the employees. Both the formal and informal kinds of communication are affected by the culture of the people and company’s moral guidelines. Businesses should accommodate intercultural sensitivity training to improve internal and external communication (Beaverstock, 2017). Information should effectively flow within and outside the company, to the management, and down to the bottom-level employees.

Importance of Cultural Sensitivity in Business Communication (PR)

Culture plays a critical role in interactions that occur within and outside the organization. Culture involved in organizational communication operates on two levels: the culture of the individuals involved in the conversation and the corporate culture of the business. Creating intercultural competence within the organization equips members with the necessary skills to interact effectively (Walker, Walker, & Schmitz 2003). Companies are currently operating within multiple cultures based on how people have come together from different countries and backgrounds. The international business context means that managers have to deal with the cultural differences affecting their performance by preparing their employees to deal with such challenges. Companies have to increase its competitiveness to enhance the capacity to gain more revenues and maintain profitability (Welch & Welch, 2018). The company that performs best is the one whose employees are equipped to handle the cultural pressure in the global markets (Beaverstock, 2017). The goal can be achieved by ensuring that employees are able to communicate across cultures in a way that they improve their relationships with various stakeholders.

Improving intercultural sensitivity enhances the potential of the organization to accomplish its goals and objectives. Once businesses begin interacting with others across national borders, communication becomes critical (Rudd & Lawson, 2007). Communication is the basis for organizations to expand their operations and reach more local and global customers. However, a critical challenge in international investments is the communication breakdown affecting how employees’ interact with the organization. Consequently, organizations should accommodate intercultural sensitivity training to their workforce in the process of decision-making in the firm (Matveev & Nelson, 2004). Intercultural sensitivity involves identifying how employees from different parts of the world are affected by the communication model in the organization (Beaverstock, 2017). A key question is how the information flows down from the senior managers of companies to the employees. Hence, an organization involves interactions between the individual and team levels that are defined by the cultural rules in a specific region. Both the formal and informal kinds of communication are affected by the culture of the people and company’s moral guidelines.

Intercultural sensitivity and competence prepare an individual for uncertainty and certain events in the working place, making employees better at their work. Although some people may come from the same background, they could also differ in major aspects of their cultures. Hence, understanding and respecting the differences makes it possible for employees to collaborate with individuals from different cultures to build the image and reputation of an organization. Every business takes appropriate measures to position its brand and maintain its positive impact on the society, which is only possible through effective communication (Krishnan & Kirubamoorthy, 2017). Effective communicators use their skills to match both the stakeholders’ needs and the approach used by a company to communicate to them on issues involving performance, productivity, and organizational goals. Employees can communicate effectively with anyone within and outside the company if they are culturally sensitive and competent. Hence, training might play a leading role in promoting the skills and expertise to learn and understand other individuals and groups.

Theoretical Model

Hofstede’s cultural dimension is the most important model in understanding the role of cultural sensitivity in improving business communications. Culture’s cultural aspects should be recognized when making any decision that involves cultural differences in organizations. The theory relates to the impact of understanding the similarities and differences in cultures across the world (Hofstede, 2001). The model is based on five dimensions, including: “power distance, individualism or collectivism, masculinity or femininity, uncertainty avoidance, and long-term or short-term orientation” (Hofstede, 2001). Culturally sensitive and competent individuals should understand and use the dimensions in business communications.

The power distance index (PDI) is the measure of the distance between people of different cultures. The dimension gauges the proximity of people from diverse power statuses and the readiness of the people to recognize the distance. It plays a critical role in the knowledge of how individuals understand and appreciate those from a culture different from theirs. Individualism or collectivism (IDV) is the measure of a country’s level of individualism or collectivism. Some states focus on individual interests while others work for the greater or social good.  Understanding the nature of society plays a role in the way people treat those from other cultures. The masculinity dimension (MAS) relates to the level of power and assertiveness in a society. In addition, it relates to the role distribution in a society. The uncertainty avoidance index score (UAI) reveals the level of tolerance for uncertainty within a culture. Some people are more capable of dealing with uncertain circumstances than others. Long-term or short-term orientation (LTO) relates to thrift, perseverance, and the need for organized relationships within a culture (Kent, 2011). Some cultures tend to make long-term decisions while others can adopt short-term resolutions depending on the dimension.

The model plays a critical role in understanding how companies can make important decisions when interacting with others from different cultures. Understanding where culture is based on the five dimensions improves the capacity to communicate and interact with individuals from diverse backgrounds. The model provides an effective guide to proper intercultural communication. Culture relates to communication, which plays a significant role in public relations. Hence, being sensitive to cultural differences improves the competence to interact across cultures.

Hypotheses/ Research Questions

The current study hypothesizes that intercultural sensitivity has a positive impact on business communication and public relations in multinational organizations.

The research questions include:

  1. What is the impact of intercultural sensitivity on business communication and public relations in multinational organizations?
  2. How do managers in multinational organizations promote intercultural sensitivity training in their organizations?
  3. What is the level of understanding among managers in multinational organizations on intercultural sensitivity and its impact on their organizations?

Research Method

Research Design

The research will use an exploratory study approach to investigate the impact of intercultural sensitivity on business communication and the level of implementation of related training in a multinational organization. The study will take a qualitative approach, indicating that the data will be collected using interviews, which will gather information form managers of multinational corporations. Qualitative approach is used when the researcher wants to gain a deeper understanding of a certain phenomenon, including the reasons and perceptions of the subjects under study. The design provides information about the problem and assists in developing the idea regarding the topic. Qualitative study will be used to uncover trends in opinions and thoughts (Neuman, 2013). In addition, qualitative data is critical for the study as the researcher seeks a deeper understanding of the implementation and impact of intercultural sensitivity training program in a multinational organization. The exploratory study will involve understanding the ideas and opinions of those involved in the implementation of the programs in their organizations.

Measurement Items to Address RQs

The variables for the study derived from the research question are intercultural sensitivity and business communication. The researcher has designed the qualitative research to measure the two variables. The independent variable, cross-cultural sensitivity, will be measured by collecting data from the current intercultural training programs in multinational companies. The dependent variable, business communication, will be measured by collecting data on the impact of the program on the nature of communication and public relations in the multinational companies. For example, data might show improvement or decline of business communication following implementation of the program. However, the data collection process will show the actual outcome in the measurement of variables. The data to measure the independent and dependent variables will reveal whether intercultural sensitive programs are effective in improving business communications.


The settings of the study will be multinational companies in the United States. Multicultural organizations bring together employees from different cultures, including expatriates. Hence, the companies have to deal with the cultural differences that affect their performance (Neuman, 2013). The firms aim at increasing competitiveness just like any other business, but facing challenges of dealing with diverse cultures and use the differences for the organizational benefits. Hence, it is necessary to understand the programs available in multinational organizations to enhance cultural sensitivity and competence as well as ensuring that employees are using diversity to improve productivity and profitability. The research will be conducted in selected multinational organizations with programs to ensure cultural sensitivity and competence. The researcher seeks to understand the implementation and impact of such programs.

Population and Sampling

The population for the study is the multinationals in the United States since they are the organizations most likely to work in culturally diverse regions all over the world. The country hosts thousands of such organizations that the researcher can select from. However, since it is impossible to collect data from all the multinationals in the country, the researcher will conduct a sampling process to identify manageable units. The researcher will use purposive sampling to get a sample of five multinationals. Purposive sampling is used when the researcher desires to get a sample with common characteristics from the population (Neuman, 2013). For example, in the current study, the researcher is interested in only multinationals operating in the United States. Other criteria for inclusion in the sample are multinationals that have created cultural sensitivity programs as part of managing diversity in their operations. Data will be collected from the managers who are directly involved in the management of such programs.

Data Collection Procedure

Since the current study is qualitative, the researcher will collect data using a face-to-face interview. The approach will allow the researcher to collect data in the form of narratives, which would allow deeper exploration of the topic under study. Furthermore, interviews give the researcher more freedom to collect exploratory data by asking questions to clarify opinions and perspectives given by the participants (Neuman, 2013). The researcher will perform the interview on five managers, one from each multinational company. The interview will be conducted using an interview schedule and responses recorded through an audio recorder for later analysis. The interview schedules will be designed before data is collected and tested using a pilot study to prove the validity and reliability of the data collection tool before it is used in the actual research. Notably, the researcher will use the same interview schedule to interview all the five participants since it will be based on research questions.

Data Analysis

The data from the interviews will be analyzed using discourse content analysis, which identifies common themes for presentation.  The approach is a qualitative data analysis method that seeks to get meaning from content or text  (Neuman, 2013). Hence, the researcher will use the process to elaborate responses given by the participants. The process will involve listening to the audio recorder and transcribe the responses using similar themes. Coding is the effective process in identifying the common themes in the text. The coding process will allow the researcher to group related information during the presentation.

Discussions and Conclusion


The study is based on some assumptions that might affect the validity of the study.  The primary assumption in the study is that multinational corporations work with people from diverse cultures and that they face communication difficulties due to those differences. International companies bring together employees from different countries and cultural backgrounds. Hence, it is expected that communication is not effective without intercultural support due to such diversity. Hence, it is vital for managers to anticipate the challenges and implement training programs for intercultural sensitivity and competence. Therefore, this is assumed to be one of the reasons why multinational companies implement programs to improve intercultural competence and make the working environment more effective for all employees. The programs are anticipated to play an important role in promoting business communication and public relations. The researcher assumes that five companies will be identified with programs to support intercultural sensitivity training.

Expected Results

The expected outcome of the study is that multinational companies with training programs are more effective in business communications and public relations compared to those that lack such initiatives. Hence, managers who understand the need for intercultural sensitivity training are most likely to make their companies more competitive and productive when working with a diverse workforce. Intercultural sensitivity training prepares individuals, to including employees, to interact with people from other cultures. It allows them to understand the different cultures and communicate with others in a more productive environment. Considering the importance of the training programs, the researcher expects that most of the researched organizations have some form of training to improve intercultural communication among their employees.

Implications of the Findings

The results of the study will play an essential role in future studies and the implementation of intercultural sensitivity training in businesses operating under various cultures. However, the implications of the study will depend on the outcome for specific companies. For instance, considering the positive impact of intercultural communication on business and public relations, companies that have not implemented training programs are most likely to initiate such platforms to enhance employees’ productivity. Besides, the companies that have intercultural sensitivity training programs are expected to improve their programs to support better communications between their employees and external stakeholders, such as customers.

Companies that expand to new global markets must consider training their employees on cultural sensitivity. They should also understand how the local culture would affect their performance. Cultural sensitivity allows people to recognize different worldviews and demonstrate that their culture is not any better than others. The results of the study will provide practitioners with the knowledge necessary to implement intercultural sensitivity programs to train employees working in multicultural business environments. The results will also be useful to public relations practitioners who play a critical role in influencing the intercultural sensitivity of the organization. Rather than introducing such lessons in times when there is a crisis, cultural sensitivity should be taught on a daily basis to encourage positive attitude and interactions in diverse groups. The knowledge is critical to improving training for public relations.

The results of the study will be useful for future studies. The study will add to the existing body of knowledge on intercultural sensitivity training and business communications. The results will be used in educating students on intercultural sensitivity and competence to improve communication between people from diverse cultures. The results will also form an important foundation for future research.

Future Study

The current study is limited to programs that multinationals have already implemented to support intercultural sensitivity. Hence, the findings are limited to specific programs not necessarily customized to the needs of the current study. Future research should focus on the implementation of actual training programs to understand the implications more practically. Future research should also mix qualitative and quantitative research methods to collect more data on intercultural sensitivity training and its impact on business communication and public relations. Use of a blended approaches will allow the researcher to collect data from more multicultural companies and participants. Thus, the approach will provide a more comprehensive analysis of the relationship between the variables.

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