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Tacit knowledge and intercultural communication

Interview with Dr. Neena Gupta-Biener, University of Konstanz, Germany on the ‘Tacit knowledge and intercultural communication’

Prof. Dr. Sonja Salmen : What do you mean by tacit knowledge?

NeenaDr. Neena Gupta-Biener: Tacit knowledge refers to the knowledge gained through experiential learning. Since the process of acquisition of knowledge is not a result of reflection and conscious deliberation but occurs on an intuitive and emotional level, it is difficult to articulate in written and spoken language. It can also be considered ‘hands-on-skills’ This knowledge is different from explicit knowledge which can be documented .

Prof. Dr. Sonja Salmen : What is the role of tacit knowledge in intercultural communication?

Dr. Neena Gupta-Biener: Since the process of tacit learning takes place at an emotional and intuitive level, it is culturally bound. Information coming from outside is filtered through the filter of culture before any learning or knowledge acquisition can take place. Concepts, terms, symbols and metaphors, for example, which serve within a particular community as implicit criteria for selecting, ordering and evaluating knowledge, supporting what is deemed ordinary and consensual, can create considerable barriers for the cross-cultural dissemination of knowledge between cultures.

Prof. Dr. Sonja Salmen: Can you give us some examples?

Dr. Neena Gupta-Biener: As a consultant in the field of change management, I faced this problem quite often. For example, an Indian engineer who developed a patent for a German multinational could not transfer this knowledge to his German colleagues. His conclusion after his stay in Germany was: ‘German engineers are not good in mathematics’. After seeing the complex algorithm of his patent, I realised that the problem was hidden in the difference of knowledge acquisition between him and his German colleagues. His knowledge was embedded as experience in a ‘mosaic’ pattern in his cognition whereas his German colleagues expected him to explain the solution in a logical deductive framework. It is the same problem shared by an expatriate who is unable to communicate his experiences gained abroad with his younger colleagues in the headquarter. Most of the companies who are operating globally are aware of this problem as we saw in our workshop in 2010. Vice Presidents and CEOs from different German multinationals considered it one of the biggest drawbacks in knowledge management in companies.  Similar hurdles are faced by immigrants in their new homeland in communicating with teachers in school or in communicating their religious practices and traditions in a democratic civil society.  The EU commission report of 2007 considers it as a major challenge on how to learn from the ‘other’ be it expatriates, immigrants, or organizations for innovation and development.

Prof. Dr. Sonja Salmen: Do you think that the workshop which you are organising would be able to show the way how to use tacit knowledge or at least help to open the ‘pandora box’?

Dr. Neena Gupta-Biener: The aim of this workshop is to discuss the possibility of using interdisciplinary methodogies to tap tacit knowledge.

Prof. Dr. Sonja Salmen: Why interdisciplinary methodology?

To analyse a phenomenon in its environment is the most difficult task and analysing it with the help of one discipline is using partial filters which will only lead to partial truths. Here one can use the metaphor of five blind men going around an elephant. To overcome this weakness and to get a complete picture of the reality, one has to use not only the instruments of different disciplines but also to develop a common approach which will act as a bridge for different disiciplines. This is the first ever workshop where experts from the field of literature, sociology, psychology management and economic sciences come together. With this workshop, we also want to bridge the gap between field of ‘Humanities’ and other social sciences including the field of economics.

For more information about the workshop visit here.


Über Prof. Dr. Sonja Salmen

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