Characteristics of Indonesian intercultural sensitivity in multicultural and international work groups

Ongoing Themes in Psychology and Culture

Bernadette N. Setiadi, A. Supratiknya, Walter J. Lonner, Ype H. Poortinga

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(c)2004 International Association for Cross-Cultural Psychology

Indonesian intercultural sensitivity

Characteristics of Indonesian Intercultural Sensitivity in Multicultural and International Work Groups


Intercultural Sensitivity (ICS) is an important socio-cultural variable in dealing with intercultural contexts such as multicultural societies and overseas assignments. The variable covers skills to manage and make the maximum use of cultural differences. Therefore, it plays a significant role in promoting harmonious living in pluralistic societies. In international work contexts, the importance of ICS is recognized in selecting managers for overseas assignments (Frankenstein & Hosseini, 1988; Adler, 1991; Black, 1990 in Bhawuk & Brislin, 1992), in measuring level of effectiveness to manage multicultural work groups (Cui & Van Den Berg, 1991), and in predicting job satisfaction rate (Tung, 1984; Hawes & Kealey, 1981; Brislin, 1981 in Bhawuk & Brislin, 1992).

As an important competency, ICS in its various terms (e.g., cultural empathy, cultural awareness) is repeatedly mentioned in studies and literature focusing on intercultural competencies (for a more extensive review please refer to Dinges, 1983; Dinges & Baldwin, 1996). However, these competencies, including ICS, are underdeveloped for two reasons. First, most available studies focus on measuring and developing ICS by offering learning models and training strategies helping to develop the ICS knowledge base (e.g., Albert, 1983; Bennett, 1986; Bennett, 1993). As much as these studies have made fruitful contributions to enhance overseas effectiveness in practical fields, more systematic work on what features ICS consists of are needed to establish or validate the concept. Secondly, the lack of non-western cultural perspectives on ICS studies (Dinges, 1983) resulted in a limited comprehension of the concept. This work attempts to fulfill the needs by exploring the characteristics of Indonesian ICS.

Currently, information regarding ICS for Indonesia is highly important because this multicultural society has been facing a constant challenge to manage its cultural diversity. Ideas promoting pluralistic living emerge in Indonesia as a response to interethnic conflicts (Suparlan, 1999; Madjid, 2000). Information on ICS is equally important in international working contexts because Indonesians have been experiencing problems and conflicts with their foreign colleagues (Tjitra, 2001).

Despite the current elevation in regional conflicts, the fact that In-donesian multicultural society has existed for centuries says something important about the adaptive nature of Indonesian culture and its inhabitants. Historically, the long ages of acculturation contacts in trades, religious exchanges, educational missions and colonization, have saturated Indonesian culture with experiences concerning cultural differences (Yumarma, 1996). Accordingly, it is reasonable to expect that the concept of ICS is embedded in Indonesian culture. According to Thomas (1999), culture provides individuals with specific ways to think, to feel, to perceive, to judge and to behave. In this sense, ICS influences Indonesians' thoughts, emotion reactions, and behavior regarding cultural differences. Within a broader intercultural context, the features of Indonesian culture might serve as a basic template to help develop Indonesian intercultural ICS. The aim of this chapter, therefore, is to help identify characteristics of Indonesian ICS in multicultural and international work groups and how they are modified in order to fulfill the demand of intercultural context in international work groups. The term "multicultural work group" refers to groups whose members were Indonesians.

Those representing the international work groups were the ones identified as Indonesian-German. The engagements involving these two contrasting cultures evidently lead to interpersonal conflicts and problems because of differing communication styles, conflicts of power and completely differing sets of working values (Tjitra, 2001). Therefore, Indonesian-German work groups set a suitable context to investigate elements of ICS.

The study applies a Javanese cultural perspective as a representation of Indonesian culture because of several factors. The absence of a solid Indonesian culture makes Javanese culture suitable as a "substitute" because of its broad coverage of influences in the nation. Its influence is noticeable in the Indonesian working context as well, especially in the public sector (Brandt, 1997). Moreover, while similar patterns of thought and behavior of Javanese culture are also available in other cultures (see Harahap & Siahaan, 1987; Tjitra, 2001; Koentjaraningrat, 1993), it is the most explored and studied culture of Indonesia.

A Definition of ICS

To meet its goal, this study must work from an ICS definition that includes cognitive, affective, and behavioral components of the concept. Unfortunately, despite the extensive works to conceptualize ICS, such a multidimensional definition is not yet available. Therefore, this study reviews previous research in the area and puts them together to reach a more comprehensive meaning of ICS.

A popular definition of ICS was provided by research based on Triandis's attribution theory (e.g., Albert, 1983). The goal in this area was to develop what Triandis called isomorphic attributions of the targeted cultures in order to form appropriate attributions with respect to the particular perspective that resulted in a mutual positive evaluation and high sensitivity (Triandis, 1975). Consequently, the challenge was to gain knowledge of others' "subjective cultures" and to understand their logic and coherence (Albert, 1983; Cleveland, et al., in Dinges, 1983). Following the cognitive direction, Cui and Van den Berg (1991) perceived ICS as a mental capacity to deal with ambiguity and unfamiliarity. The studies on ICS cognitive meaning are undoubtedly important. However, they are not sufficient to encompass the meaning of Indonesian ICS which is more experienced as an "affect-laden term" (Dinges, 1983 p. 178).

The affective level of ICS was represented by the Javanese concept of rasa which has a dual meaning. First, it has a concrete meaning as "feeling" (e.g., sweet, hot, happy, etc). Secondly, and more crucial, was its associative meaning, which indicated "the between-the-lines 'looking north and hitting south' type of allusive suggestion that is so important in Javanese communication" (Geertz, 1964 p. 238). In social contexts, both meanings of rasa are tied together. Emotional life is very important, because of its importance in understanding the world. A refined rasa is called kepekaan, a direct translation for sensitivity. It is a valuable state of emotion because it enables a person to understand the deepest meanings of situations, something that reflects the essential things (Reksosusilo, 1989; Magnis-Suseno, 1996). A man of refined rasa will be able to assess and analyze situations and behave adequately. That is, the concept covers awareness, acceptance, and respect for cultural differences (Bennett, 1993). Therefore, in its affective sense, ICS was perceived as a refined affect to assess and analyze situations which are directed at appropriate behavior in order to preserve harmony. Discussions on affective formulations of ICS extend its understanding because they influence the exploration of the inward aspects. However, it is the behavioral dimensions of a concept that deals with empirical facts and would be very useful for the exploratory purposes underlying this study.

The behavioral aspect of ICS was discussed extensively in the field of intercultural communication (see Hammer, 1989 for a review). The concept was perceived as a skill to infer as well as to project others' feeling and thoughts, to achieve mutual understanding in a verbal and non verbal communication context (Martin, 1993; Hammer, 1989; Ruben & Kealey, 1979). Among the three meanings, the behavioral meaning of ICS is the most concrete one and beneficial for measurement purposes. A disadvantage, of course, is that without the previous two meanings, this behavior loses its conceptual context and can easily be misleading.

Based on the conceptual exploration, this study develops a definition of ICS as follows (Panggabean, 2001:38):

"...a capability to deal with unfamiliarity and ambiguity of intercultural differences in a flexible manner. It covers cognitive skills such as the ability to recognize, to be aware of and to understand the attributions from other cultures' point of view. It also includes the willingness to accept and respect the importance of cultural differences in order to preserve the harmony of the intercultural situation and to prevent conflict. The ICS will be achieved in a situation where there is appropriate and effective verbal and non-verbal behavior that leads to mutual understanding in specific situations. This also implies that ICS provides a certain degree of readiness to modify behavior in dealing with intercultural differences."

The Concept of rasa and Harmony as Primary Resources of Indonesian ICS

As discussed earlier, the dual meaning of rasa accentuates its phenomenological nature. Within interpersonal interactions, rasa enables a person to "feel" others' emotional feelings and to "sense" others' exis-tence including their role, or to use a more popular term, to be empathetic in dealing with others. It is widely known that Indonesians place great importance on non-verbal gestures to communicate meanings (see examples in Brandt, 1997). Many conflicts among Indonesians are avoided by exercising rasa in receiving as well as communicating messages.

The application of refined rasa is crucial in relation to harmony, a primary Indonesian cultural value. Harmony originates in the Javanese cosmological belief that there is a balance between an individual's inner state, the nature, and God (Mulder, 2001; Magnis Suseno, 1996). A harmonious state is not achieved. Rather it already exists from the beginning as a balancing condition (Magnis-Suseno, 1996). Individuals are part of the cosmos. Each individual has his or her own roles and tasks in relation to each specific social context. Acts to carry out their roles and tasks with dedication and commitment shall lead to the preservation of harmony. If every person is obliged to perform their roles within their status, harmony should exist. It is important to note that roles and tasks in this context are meant implicitly. In this sense, rasa is needed to precisely locate harmony as a normative base of behavior in a social context. rasa allows people to understand the context, status, and roles existing in any complex context. It allows people to "feel" the social harmony within the contexts and this shall guide them to use appropriate conduct as necessary.

The above interplay between rasa and harmony is noticeable in novel social situations such as the beginning phase of a work group. In this context, a kind of ICS is performed, termed "situation assessment" Individuals spare a considerable amount of time looking for "the rules of the game", to gain understanding of their unstated roles and tasks. This characteristic can be inferred from frequent occurrence of conflict-avoidance responses and a pleasant group climate. The pleasant atmosphere promotes a mutual search to locate an exact point of group harmony from which the objective group task accomplishment will begin. In his cosmological explanations, Magnis-Suseno (1996) referred to this process as "mencari tempat yang tepat" (to look for the righteous place).

Furthermore, rasa provides individuals with sensitivity to spare some space for unique expressions of each diverse aspect and at the same time decide the suitable limits for the expressions. This kind of sensitivity is called tenggang rasa (Mulder, 2001; Sardjono, 1994). As a particular expression of ICS, the word tenggang rasa is often translated into tolerance. While it contains the mutual respect for different aspects as implied by tolerance, a distinctive meaning of tenggang rasa is actually differentiates it from tolerance. Tenggang rasa means individuals should not necessarily accept or favor others who are culturally different. Instead, they should not deny cultural differences and provide considerable space for their existence. Involvement into cultural differences is characterized by a striving to maintain one's cultural identity. Anderson (1996) illustrated the fact that Moslem parents sent their children to prestigious Catholic schools with a firm, yet unstated, understanding that their children should not become Catholics. In situations where providing space for cultural differences is unlikely, tenggang rasa is expressed in acts to involve members of less dominant cultures.

The idea of rasa and harmony reflect the striving to survive cultural differences. Then, it is reasonably understood that acceptance of cultural differences is covered in Indonesian ICS. It means that the Javanese perspective does not resent differences or conflicts as long as they do not endanger harmony. This attitude is indicated by a relaxed manner and a comfortable feeling in perceiving ambiguous situations or unfamiliarity (Darmaputera, 1991). It includes a willingness to accept unexplainable responses and regard them as a natural consequence of unpredictable aspects of cultural diversity, which is beyond human rational explanations.

An important side of harmony is its conflict-avoidance nature. Seve-ral characteristics of ICS emerge for this purpose. The first one is hormat (respect), which is concerned primarily with the preservation of others' dignity and the willingness to express appreciation of another's point of view (Magnis-Suseno, 1996). Hormat presents itself in various manifestations to protect others' dignity, either in preventing conflicts, in various form of "face-saving" behavior or while conveying indirect negative messages (Magnis-Suseno, 1996; Brandt, 1997).

The second characteristic deals with emotional coping of conflict-avoidance situations. In this study it is called the "display of emotional control". Darmaputera (1991) explained it as a conduct in which one controls oneself in order to prevent unnecessary conflict. This dimension also focuses on the way people deal with negative feelings caused by intercultural differences. This characteristic calls for action in delaying responses or in refraining from communicating ideas, especially if they have potential for conflict, and in allowing more time to handle emotional drives in order to look for more appropriate conduct which will not endanger the harmony of the group (Anderson, 1990; Mulder, 2001).

The next conflict-avoidance characteristic is "sensitivity towards non-verbal behavior". Again, in this feature we can see the interplay of rasa and harmony. As Brandt (1997) reported, Indonesian communication style is heavily based on non-verbal messages. As a result, Indonesians are excellent in sending and interpreting non-verbal behavior. Sensitivity to non-verbal behavior could be performed verbally or non verbally.

Indonesian cultural diversity provides complex sets of cultural variables as determinants of the individual's cultural identity, far beyond one's ethnic group's affiliation (see Panggabean, 2001 for a more detail explanation). As a result, the Indonesian complex determinant of cultural identity defines a significant part of an individual's identity. Consequently, ICS is practiced during individual contacts so that it becomes a part of social identity as well. In this sense, the role of ICS reaches its socially adaptive function.


The study applied three instruments, namely Syntex Management Game Simulation (Syntex), Syntalk Group Discussions (Syntalk), and the Practitioner Interview. Syntex and Syntalk were conducted in an experimental-setting and Practitioner Interview was a field study. The application of multiple methods was needed to uncover the complexity of ICS and thus served as triangulation aiming for a complimentary contribution for qualitative studies (Denzin & Lincoln, 1994; Mayring, 1999). Participants belonged to various ethnic groups. The study did not control for the sample's ethnic distribution since ICS was treated as a general competency because of its social adaptive function. That is, the expression of ICS is independent from an ethnic group membership.


The subjects involved with Syntex and Syntalk were students. Those in the multicultural work groups were students at Atma Jaya Catholic University in Jakarta, whereas those in the international work groups were Indonesian and German students at the University of Hamburg and the Technical University of Braunschweig, Germany.

Respondents for the Practitioner Interview were Indonesians and Germans who had been involved in Indonesian-German work groups for at least 6 months, a time-period sufficient for interpersonal relationships among group members to have been established. The term "work group" will be limited to permanent teamwork with certain task-objective targets with meetings held continually for at least 6 months. The interview was conducted with 23 respondents (14 Indonesians and 9 Germans, with 13 of them females and 10 males), members of non-profit (governmental projects, NGOs, educational institutions) as well as profit organizations (multinational companies). All respondents were between 36-60 years old with university educational backgrounds. Most of the respondents held positions in which they had considerable decision-making power: executive secretary, senior language teachers, junior managers/consultants, senior managers/consultants, vice president and directors.

Research Instruments

Syntex and Syntalk. Syntex is a computerized management game simulation. It was developed by Zeutschel and Tjitra (1996, in Tjitra, 2001) as part of a research project called Interkulturelle Synergie in Arbeitsgruppen (Intercultural Synergy in Workgroups) at the University of Regensburg, Germany during the period of 1996-1999. Syntex simulates complex problem solving situations by presenting them as managerial tasks. Participants acted as members of top-level management of a fictitious textile company. A work group consisted of 3-4 students. Their assignment was to transform a practically ruined company into a profi-table one. The group performance was determined by accomplishment of three targets: to maximize company assets, the availability of new positions and an increase in job satisfaction. Each target was modeled by complex sets of variables that allow computer manipulations (see Fig. 4.4 and 4.5 in Tjitra, 2001). To achieve their goal, the group had to work together closely and make strategic decisions. The participants were allowed to make inquiries regarding the company database with the head of computer laboratory, who was the main information source of the game. However, their assignments were time-limited. In each game a well-trained moderator managed the computer database and simulation procedures and played the role of the head of the laboratory. Jakarta Syntex groups consisted of two sessions: a 60-minute training session (session 1) and a 120-minute game session (session 2). In Germany, the groups were allocated 150-minutes for both sessions.

Syntalk was administered after Syntex in each session (20 minutes for training sessions and 30 minutes for game sessions). During Syntalk sessions, the participants were given an opportunity to share and discuss their Syntex experiences facilitated by the Syntex moderator. Syntalk focused on four aspects of the session: the degree of group satisfaction in achieving the predetermined goals, the degree of group acceptance of the specific strength from each team member, the learning effects gained from the first Syntex session and how it develops into target determination for further co-operations, and concrete examples for effective co-operation in groups.

Neither instrument was specifically designed to study ICS characteristics. However, the conceptual exploration revealed that ICS characteristics are specific mechanisms to preserve harmony. Thus, it determines a major part of Indonesians' social action in any context of their social interactions. Therefore, its relevance is apparent as well in specific social interactions such as work groups. Syntex & Syntalk served as the group context in which ICS characteristics are most likely to manifested and be accessible for analysis. This feature endowed the study with a favorable context to demonstrate the central role of ICS for Indonesians. Consequently, the problem-solving aspect of Syntex was not the study's primary focus of analysis.

The author of this article did not administer Syntex and Syntalk. The instruments were administered by the Regensburg project and each group sessions were videotaped. This study analyzed four videos (two multicultural groups and two international groups).

Practitioner Interview. Practitioner Interview is a semi-structured interview and was conducted during the period of May-September 2000 in Jakarta by the author. The interview focused on the following: (a) psychological readiness during the earlier phase of the work group that should reflect an early awareness of cultural differences and group-atmosphere assessment patterns, (b) characteristics of ICS performed in work groups, and (c) comparison between behavioral patterns occurring in solving critical incidents situations in international work groups and those occurring in similar situations in multicultural work groups, as well as the reasons for those behavioral patterns. The goal of this comparison is to find the degree and process of behavior modification in different cultural contexts.

Data Analysis System

All data were analyzed using Mayring's content analysis technique (Mayring, 2000). For two reasons, this technique was considered suitable for the study. First, the technique considers communication context as central for adequate analysis, something that is left out or unreachable by other content analysis procedures (Mayring, 2000; Manning & Cullum-Swan, 1994). As sensitivity is expressed during a particular social interaction, the communication aspect becomes a social context in which to perceive and understand its characteristics. Secondly, its accent is on systematic (systematisch), rule-guided (regelgeleitet), and theory-guided (theoriegeleitet) procedures in data analysis, which makes it more reliable.

Data Analysis Procedures

Basing its work on the Mayring's techniques procedures, the study put its analysis focus on different domains of ICS characteristics because of the specific nature of each data source. Syntex, for example, was a suitable instrument for focusing on the behavioral domain of ICS characteristics since the data display interactions among group members in performing the assignments. These differential foci were formulated as research questions. Afterwards, sampling materials were determined for each data source. Sampling materials defined the context of analysis. Then, the unit of analysis was determined and a categorical system for each data source was developed. Each category along with its indicators was developed based on the theoretical framework.

Prior to the data analysis, a preliminary study for Syntex and Syntalk was conducted by applying the category system to two Syntex-Syntalk videos (one multicultural and the other international). The preliminary study was primarily aimed at refining the categories and indicators. By doing so, the study at the same time evaluated the instruments' applicability to explore ICS characteristics, since both instruments were not originally developed to investigate ICS. The coding procedures for Syntex and Syntalk was conducted using the INTERACT computer software.

Preparation for administering the Practitioner Interview was conducted by applying the interview guidelines in an interview role-play with German and Indonesian students. Based on these trail results, the interview guideline was modified.

More details on how to apply the above steps for each data source are described below.

Research question for Syntex was formulated as follows:

(1) How do ICS characteristics manifest themselves in problem-solving contexts of multicultural work groups and international work groups?

The Syntex sampling material were the discourses among Syntex participants during training and game sessions. The unit of analysis for Syntex was a behavioral situation. This means that the study determined a typical situation for each category in the empirical data and coded the behavioral indicators as they occurred.

The research question for Syntalk was as follows:

(2) Which ICS characteristics are going to emerge when the multicultural and international work groups reflect their problem-solving experiences?

The sampling material of Syntalk was the group discussions among Syntalk participants and the discourses between the participants and the moderator. The unit of analysis was sentences or comments in the group discussions.

Research questions for Practitioner Interview:

(3) As Indonesians and Germans work together in various international co-operations fields, which ICS characteristics are going to emerge in their daily working context?

Practitioner Interview sampling materials were interviews data that has been transcribed. Unit of analyses was sentences.

Table 1
An Example of Syntex Categories and Indicators

Categories of ICS Characteristics


Group-atmosphere assessment

Allowing time to define roles and search for group harmony in an effort to build pleasant interpersonal atmosphere in earlier phase. Mainly indicated by conflict avoidance behavior and apprehensive responses while searching "the rule of the ga-me" and the "righteous role" (Mag-nis-Suseno, 1996; Darmaputera, 1991; Geertz in Magnis-Suseno, 1996).

  • During earlier phase (the first 30 minutes of the first session) frequent occurrences of:
  • indirect rejections such as ignorance, switching topic
  • silence
  • refrain or withdrawal of potentially conflicting initiatives, proposals, or suggestions
  • non-verbal and verbal affirmative responses
  • conveying ideas or proposals in form of questions
  • looking for confirmations
  • face-saving behavior

Tenggang rasa

Emphatic, understanding responses towards others in order to preserve harmony. Mainly indicated by giving space for others to express differences. Also indicated by efforts to involve the passive member (Geertz, 1964; Magnis-Suseno, 1996; Anderson, 1996).

  • deliberately let others express conflict potential ideas
  • responses aimed at invol-ve-ment of others (e.g., direct questions to stimulate other's ideas)


Sensitivity to non-verbal behavior

Appropriate situational and interpersonal responses as reactions of receiving non verbal messages (Druck-man et. al, 1982).

  • Emphatic responses or mod-i-fication behavior following non-verbal messages



Table 2
An Example of Syntalk Categories and Indicators

Categories of ICS Characteristics


Group-atmosphere Assessment

An effort to build and maintain pleas-ant interpersonal atmosphere in earlier phase of work, while searching for "the righteous role" (Magnis-Suse-no, 1996). It is reflected in intention to act cautiously, to avoid conflicts in order to become more familiar with the group

During the early phase of Syntex (the first 30 minutes of the first session):

  • explanations for apprehensiveness as ways to search for "the rule of the game"

  • effort on fitting oneself to suitable role

  • desire for familiarity among group members

Tenggang Rasa

1. Readiness to provide space for differences to occur (Geertz, 1964; Magnis-Suseno, 1996)

2. Effort to involve others who are different into the group to avoid disturbance in harmony (Mulder, 2001; Anderson,1996)

  • intent to involve passive members to attain a more balance group participatio
  • readiness to let others express their differences

Sensitivity to non-verbal behavior

Awareness of situational and interpersonal appropriateness of receiving non-verbal messages (Druckman, 1982). In the work group context it is indicated by awareness of psychological distance among group members which influences group climate

  • awareness of unbalanced participation among group members as an indicator of negative feeling
  • intention on responding to non verbal message from other member, either by modifying behavior or by face saving behavior


Table 3
An Example of Practitioner Interview Categories and Indicators

Categories of ICS Characteristics Indicators

Group-atmosphere assessment

It exists during the early phase of co-operations, indicated by need for fami-liarity in order to find the most suitable role within the work group (Magnis-Suseno,1996) resulted in apprehensive conducts and conflict avoi-dance practices while looking for the "rule of the game" in the group (Brandt, 1997). For Indonesians, the focus of "rule of the game" is more on interpersonal relationship (Mul-der, 1994)

During the first months of the work group

  • Description of apprehensive conducts
  • Description of acts inten-ded to look for the "rule of the game"

Active sensitivity

A specific behavioral form of empathy (Ruben & Kealey, 1979; Hammer, 1989), which is mainly indicated by readiness to modify behavior as required by cultural context (Bhawuk & Brislin, 1992). In its more specific form the characteristics can be manifested in 'multicultural man' features (Bochner, 1981; Bennett, 1993). In this way, it is a result of utilization of cultural knowledge to bridge cultural differences.

Explanation of responses or examples of:

  • switching behavior between multicultural and international group context
  • utilization of cultural knowledge

  • customization of message for different cultural members
  • customization of manner in conveying message for different cultural members.

Sensitivity to non-verbal behavior

Aware of culture-adequate and culture non-adequate action in receiving and conveying non verbal messages (Druckman et. al, 1982).

Explanation of responses or examples of them :

  • awareness of negative feeling that is conveyed through non-verbal channels
  • intention of responding to non-verbal messages from other member, either by modifying behavior or by face- saving behavior



Eight Indonesian ICS characteristics were derived from the multi-cultural groups and ten characteristics were derived from the international groups (see Figure 1). The complete analysis of those characteristics and their relationship with Indonesian cultural values are presented in Figure 1. Due to the limited space, only a few of the characteristics are discussed.

Group-Atmosphere Assessment

This characteristic occurred at an early stage of the co-operations. The length of group-atmosphere assessment correlated with the level of familiarity among group members. The assessment was performed for at least the first 30 minutes of a one-hour session in the training session, even though a 40-minutes introduction session was conducted prior to Syntex. Groups with less familiar members needed practically the whole training session to conduct the assessment.

During Syntex, the group-atmosphere assessment of the multicultural work groups was characterized by reciprocal apprehensive conduct and conflict-avoidance behavior. The most discernible indicators for apprehensive conduct were the imbalanced participation of group members and the existence of silence. Other examples of apprehensive conducts were affirmative responses, confirmation-seeking behavior, and the presentation of ideas or proposals in a question statement. Conflict avoidance occurred mainly in the form of indirect rejections. The following is a Syntex example of a group-atmosphere assessment. The words in brackets are indicators of the category:

While A and B are close friends, C is acquainted with B and hardly knows A. The group is discussing promotion budget. C is the most passive member of the group. The topic is to decide whether the group is going to raise the current budget for promotion. Current budget is 1600 dollars.

C: Could we maybe raise our promotion budget? (proposal as question)

A looks at C shortly and avoids further eye contact, instead, he looks at B while answering C (ignorance)

A: Let's just make up for that in the following month (indirect no).

B: In my opinion, using leaflets as a promotion technique is also a good idea. It's a short-term promotion anyway (switching topic).

A nods. A and B are now looking at C.

C (nods, answer slowly): Right.Yes.

B looks at A as if looking for confirmation.

B: OK..that is settled then, we agree for 1600, don't we?

A: Yes, it is settled.


The above example displays several indirect means to convey rejection, which is a typical Indonesian communication style to avoid conflict (Brandt, 1997, Tjitra, 2001). As B smoothly switched the topic from promotion budget to promotion strategy, and supported by A, the message was clear for C that his idea is rejected since the leaflet promotion is a low-budget strategy (this was obvious to the participants since it is stated in the rules of the game).

Means to assess the group-atmosphere was profoundly significant for the multicultural groups in such a way that it dominated their Syntalk responses. The participants shared that a process for searching "the righteous place" (Magnis-Suseno, 1996) was performed at the very beginning of the work. Its main aim was to gather information to increase familiarity with other members. Based on the information, group members tried to fit oneself into the most suitable role for the group. In this sense, one needed to overcome psychological distance with others before finding his or her own role. It was targeted at evaluating other's abstract interpersonal attributes such as attitudes, communication styles, or thinking patterns and it was mutually implicit. The role-searching process was shared in detail at Syntalk sessions by two members (A1 and A2) on explaining their obvious passiveness during Syntex training sessions (A represents participants, M represents moderator):

A1: I was not familiar with B…so there was some kind of burden... well, things were just...somehow it was not matched for me, that was the problem

M: So, you could not put yourself into the group?

A1: Yes, in the beginning...

A2: I wanted to explore the situation first, so I was more like an observer at the beginning. At least I had to have an idea of how each member thinks, how would they work things out, ..where would I fit and what could I contribute to the groups.. As I learned that their solutions were not successful, then I jumped in... It does not mean that I refuse to work with people who are incompatible with me, but I just wanted to see to it first ..the climate the team is...

Within the international work groups, this characteristic was expressed only by Indonesian members with their similar apprehensive conducts. Most Indonesian members were more passive than Germans, confirming descriptions from Brandt (1997) and Tjitra (2001) regarding Indonesian participation in intercultural co-operations. Below is an example, (G represent German members and N represent Indonesian members):

The group (consist of 2 Germans and 2 Indonesians) is discussing the promotion budget. Based on his experience in previous groups, N1 proposes to raise the budget. The other members are not certain whether it would work out well.

N1: In the previous group we always started at 50.000

G1: 50.000? That high?

N1: Yes..

G2: Good, but at the beginning of this game, we actually agreed to do a slow increase

N2: I think we better start slowly...and then we can go faster with raises from 10...15? (proposals as question)

G1 (to N1): Hmm, ya .. And you prefer..

N2: He wants to go directly to the highest point

N1 replies to the uncertainty of the group

N1: I don't know it for sure (but)...yesterday we did it that way and it worked fine (to present argument in apprehensive manner)

G2: Then let's try it.

N2: With 50.000? Or first we start with 20 or 30..? (proposals as questions) Or let's make it like this: how about 25 then? (proposals as question, looking for confirmation)

The Syntalk responses of group-atmosphere assessment in the international groups were indicated primarily by an intention for familiarity. The Indonesians perceived the role of familiarity similarly with the multicultural groups, namely to sense the level of group acceptance. An example is as follows:

N: If people are really familiar with each other, then somehow the atmosphere is more positive…then people can discuss things comfortably... It is different as when people have not yet familiar with each other…..then one restraints a little bit..

The Practitioner Interview revealed that in daily working context Indonesian members rely more on subjective judgments and exercised a detailed observation while engaged in the process of group-atmosphere assessment. Stereotypes of other partners, if any, might be available as basic information. However, its role was insignificant and would be encountered with information gathered from direct contact. As impressions were established, the respondents rely heavily on these as their main guidance in behaving appropriately. With regard to this process, Brandt (1997) stated that Indonesians were keen observers, with heavy emphasis on non-verbal behavior. Below are two examples from the interview (X represents interviewer, R represents respondent):

An Indonesian staff shares her non-verbal assessment process towards her German supervisor on their early phase of working together:

X : How do you view your supervisor's character?

R1: Based on our direct contacts, the way he talks. I think people can be evaluated from their speaking manner ..I prefer to observe it from his attitude toward an issue, for example, how did he judge an issue …also from trivial matters, for example if we had lunch together, how did he treat others, how did he appreciate others, or not appreciate others.

An Indonesian high-rank government officer referred to his group-atmosphere assessment process at the beginning of a project with a German consultant:

R2: I looked through him ..he looked through me ..I tried to know.. what is his intention …I mean some kind of goodwill, like that …whether he is a good person or not..

Comparing the nature of group-atmosphere assessment between multicultural and international groups, it is apparent that similar indicators of the characteristics are performed. Besides similarity, several modifications were occurred in international groups. First, while the multicultural groups invested considerable time and attention to the group-atmosphere assessment, Indonesian members in international groups used less time. The second modification was the absence of conflict avoidance behavior that was key indicators for group-atmosphere assessment in multicultural groups. Direct rejections frequently occurred very early, from the beginning of the game, making it more difficult for Indonesians to avoid conflict. Third, the group-atmosphere assessment process for Indonesians in international groups was less reciprocal than that in the multicultural ones. In the multicultural groups, a strong desire to involve passive members resulted in interplay of group-atmosphere assessment among members. In the international groups, an awareness of a passive member was not necessarily followed by involving actions. The multicultural groups displayed how negative feelings should be managed smoothly and indirectly as stated by Magnis-Suseno (1996) and Mulder (1994), in such a way that the targeted individual realized his weakness by himself, without any force or direct confrontation from others. On the contrary, the in-ternational groups dealt with passive members in a more direct manner.

Sensitivity to Non-Verbal Behavior

The characteristic was frequently performed due to the heavily indirect Indonesians communication style. The multicultural Syntex groups utilized sensitivity to non-verbal behavior as an instrument to sense other's feelings and intentions. Based on this emotional input, group members took appropriate actions. Two behavioral indicators for the characteristic were emphatic responses and behavioral modification following non-verbal messages. Sensitivity to non-verbal behavior leading to behavioral modification was indicated by the following example:

A is going to propose his idea to raise employee social welfare. He looks at B, smiles warmly, with excitement.

A: We must think of employee welfare as well. What if we raise their salaries?

B avoids A's eye contact, bows his head down, silence (non- verbal disagreement).

After a long silence in the group, slowly A's smile fades and he continues with an uncertain and soft voice:.. or...maybe.. .not...for the time being. (behavioral modification)

A primary function of this characteristic is to detect other's negative emotions, early signs of problems that could endanger group harmony. The earlier these problems are detected, the more effective conflict avoidance behavior can be performed, thus the more likely that problems solved without interrupting work accomplishments. Below is another Syntex situation describing this function:

K and L discuss on appropriate level of merchandise that needs to be bought.

K: ...., how did you come to these figures? To tell you the truth, I don't get it at all.

L explains his calculation for the second time in a soft and uncertain voice. After the explanation, K stares at L.

K: Well, then, if according to your calculation, we have to purchase that much, then let's do it!

Slowly L avoids direct eye contact by bowing his head down and scratching on his note. (signs of negative emotions)

K: Oh...are you in doubt? Are you afraid that the amount is not sufficient, that it is too little?

L looks at K, smiles with relief, and nods a little.

K: OK. OK. It's all right now, I get it, no problem,...then we purchase 15, how is it? Is it still too much…or too little? (empathic response)

L: Maybe it is still too little.

K: OK. Then we make it 20, how is that?

L: OK. That's perfect (smile in relief).

As the Syntex displayed, this ICS characteristic had been performed effectively to solve problems while maintaining a harmonious working climate in the multicultural groups.

Within an international scope of work, the importance of this characteristic was mentioned by an Indonesian respondent in a Practitioner Interview session:

R1: There is one important thing in dealing with Indonesians. We must "read" every head, "read" the personality--implicitly. It is really the point in our working context, what one tells you does not mean the same with what's inside his head. One should really be aware of that in Indonesia.

There were two main courses from which implicit meanings can be derived, namely the non-verbal channels such as facial expressions or gestures, and the indirect verbal communication. Indonesian members were quite sensitive to both implicit communication styles.

X: Could you tell whether your colleagues are dissatisfied with you or not, or if they have some objections to your proposals?

R2: Yes, from their faces, if we are in the meeting, we can look at their facial expressions.

X: Could you grasp any dissatisfactory responses from your colleagues?

R3: Yes.

X: How did you do that?

R3: I don't know. I think it's just like mutual conduct. I will also convey my dissatisfaction in the same manner as he/she does. Not directly, however, you know that.

Indonesians intuitively sense that a problem has occurred based on this uncomfortable feeling. A strong need of refined rasais obvious here, to "feel" the acceptance level of this avoidance behavior, in order to find out to what extent its effectiveness is in problem solving.

Indonesians performed sensitively to non-verbal behavior as well in the Syntex international groups with similar means, to convey emphatic responses and helping behavior, as display below (G is German; N is Indonesian):

G faces a problem with his calculations due to insufficient information. In the following conversation, he explains his needs to have more information.

G: And that is why it would be good, if we could do that. In that way we could loosely produce 5000, 6000 trousers.

N: I believe the computer program can calculate this thing for us and provide the data.

G stares at N with an astonished, doubtful look.

G and N are staring at each other for a few seconds, then N reacts.

N: We can ask.. (then asking the moderator)....

This characteristic enables Indonesians to reach into a deeper level of the subtle attributes by applying their sensitivity to "feel" others' emotional feeling (Geertz, 1964, Magnis Suseno, 1996) as presented by the following example:

X: Did you apply the experiences from your previous group?

N: Well, actually only a little.

X: What is the reason for that?

N: Maybe, since G was so highly motivated today so I would not want to disturb his excitement…

Unfortunately, this characteristic often becomes the source of intercultural misunderstandings. An example is obvious from a Syntex incident:

G shows N how to work with data in a more systematic manner. G repeatedly points at N's working papers while explaining:

G: You should take notes on this thing, so that you can calculate the whole thing.

N submissively bows his head to his papers, no eye contact with G.

N: How come?

G explains while keep on pointing to the figures on N's papers.

G: Ya, now you must take a look at the production…and this part here, what are we producing at the moment .. actually, you must sell the goods in a warehous.

N nods several times submissively, and keeps avoiding eye contact.

Looking from Indonesian perspective, G displayed a conflicting verbal and non-verbal message, in which transmission of verbally objective positive inputs was accompanied by dominating gestures. N's gestures and facial expression obviously reflected his negative feeling toward G. In this sense, N's reaction suits Magnis-Suseno's comment (1996) on Indonesian's communication style that puts a high value on "the package" rather than "the content". On the contrary, German's value of Sachorientierung (Tjitra, 2001) leads G to perceive the discourse positively. This different perception often leads to typical misunderstandings in German-Indonesian work groups (see also Tjitra, 2001).

In comparison to the multicultural groups, expressions of Sensitivity to Non-verbal Behavior in international groups were more obvious yet less effective in terms of goal attainment. Conclusively, exchanging message through non-verbal channels ran smoother among Indonesians. It supports the notion that non-verbal behavior is a cultural transmitter, and therefore culturally bound (Argyle, 1988; Poyatos, 1982) rather than the notion that non-verbal behavior is universal (LaFrance & Mayo,1978; Argyle & Cook, 1976).


Harmony Preservation

ICS Characteristics
Multicultural Groups
International Groups

1. Basic Motivation *
The primary drive in performing ICS characteristics.

Group harmony serves as the primary drive of being culturally sensitive during task accomplishments.

Group-atmosphere Assessment
Exists during early phase of co-operations, performed in apprehensive conducts and conflict avoidance behavior to find the ‘righteous role’ in the work group.

Serves as a crucial pre-condition for smooth co-operations. Group members put their main concernon the assessment rather than on their target assignments. Its role is less crucial and it is performed in tation in a relaxed manner, often accompa-nied by inadequate cultural preparation and descriptive explanation of the differences.
Awareness of cultural differences**
An expectation and recognition of different behavioral pattern from other culturally different members.
Responding to cultural differences expectation in a relaxed manner, often accompanied by inadequate cultural preparation and descriptive explanation of the differences.
Acceptance of cultural differences Unconditional acceptance, that is a willingness to regard cultural differences as a part of human nature
Tenggang Rasa
Emphatic, understanding responses, indicated by providing space for others to express differences. Conducted in heavily indirect communication style.
Expressed in mutual acts. Evidently covers the second meaning of tenggang rasa, that is to involve passive members as not to become conspicuously different. Less mutually performed and often mislead. The act of providing space is frequently misinterpreted as 'to accept the differences'.
Hormat (Respect)*
Preservation of other's dignity and willingness toexpress appreciation of another's point of view.
Performed in various kinds of face-saving behavior.
Active sensitivity
A specific behavioral form of empathy, that is mainly indicated by ability to develop adequate behavior to bridge differences.
Action-oriented sensitivity, indicated by performing means to sense differences and to develop adequate actions to bridge them. Action-oriented sensitivity, indicated by ability to apply cultural knowledge in developing culturally adequate behavior. In its more specific form the characteristic can be manifested in 'multicultural man' features (see Bochner, 1981).
Willingness to learn**
Readiness to change to cope with the targeted culture.
Indicated by an inductive, action-oriented culture-learning style (e.g., learning by doing).
Sensitivity to Non-verbal Behavior
Emphatic responses as a response to non-verbal or implicit messages.
Mainly indicated through indirect communication style. Very often culture-adequate interpretation is achieved, however it does not almost manifested in culture-adequate responses. Performed in a more direct communication style, however less effective to solve problems in comparison to that performed in the multicultural groups.
Display of Emotional Control

A delayed expression and repression of negative emotions or ideas to maintain the positive group-atmosphere.
It is indicated by subtle, non-verbal expressions. In most cases it is mutually conducted to avoid conflicts. It is performed in a more direct manner and less mutual than those in the multicultural groups, serves rather as personal conflict management style than as group conflict avoidance mechanism.

Refined rasa

Figure 1. Relationships between Indonesian main cultural values and Indonesian ICS characteristics.

*characteristics performed identically in both kinds of group
**characterististics that existed only in international groups.

Conclusion and Discussion

The few examples described above illustrate that Indonesian ICS characteristics developed in multicultural society serve as basic forms for those in intercultural contexts. Confirming this result, comparison of Indonesian ICS characteristics in multicultural and international groups reveals that most of the characteristics in international groups exist in the multicultural context (please refer to Fig.1). This fact suggests the advantage of multiculturalism to promote intercultural proficiencies (Bochner, 1981). A high exposure of cultural diversity leads to frequent intercultural engagements that give way to develop mental readiness in dealing with cultural differences. Indonesians have advantages to acquire skills for managing cultural differences in intercultural contexts due to their multiculturalism potentials.

Further discussions of the results, however, suggest that the multicultural ICS characteristics need modifications to meet the demands of intercultural contexts (see characteristics 2,5,7,9,and 10). This facts lead to an important challenge on how to transfer the multicultural potentials into adequate intercultural skills and actions. Then, being a member of multicultural society is not in much use unless a proper culture learning strategy is available. In this sense, a systematic culture learning is profitable to develop customized multicultural ICS for international co-operations. In comparison to acculturative culture learning strategy that is often typical for multicultural societies, systematic learning provides better opportunities to promote reflective learning.

Knowledge and understanding of the nature of Indonesian ICS are beneficial as well for foreign managers in dealing with their Indonesian co-workers. Studies involving Indonesian international work groups (Brandt, 1997; Tjitra, 2001, Panggabean, 2001, and Panggabean, 2002) reveal that conflicts and frictions are originated from cultural differences in two problematic areas, namely communication style and work-ethic. Indonesian indirect communication style and Indonesian lenient attitude towards several working aspects (e.g., time management, work priorities) are identified as frequent sources of conflict by the foreign co-workers. To deal with these problems, it is important to understand the idea of harmony preservation as Indonesian basic motivation in managing cultural differences. In this sense, to establish a positive group climate in the beginning of a work group engagement is crucial since a comfortable interpersonal relationship among group members provides mutual trust and understanding, leading to smooth communication and more positive work attitudes (Brandt, 1997 and Tjitra, 2001). Accordingly, the ICS characteristics become important since they promote relationship building. As described previously, the characteristics of group-atmosphere assessment is primarily intended to build a pleasant working atmosphere. The sensitivity to non-verbal behavior depicts courses of Indonesian indirect communication style to promote supportive group climate. In general, almost all characteristics are useful for group-climate development (e.g., characteristics 5,6,7,8 in Fig.1). An important challenge for intercultural contexts, however, is the fact that almost all of these characteristics are not reciprocally performed between Indonesian group members and their foreign colleagues. This fact leads to the issue of culture learning for foreign managers. However, in comparison to the similar culture-learning needs of Indonesians as discussed earlier, the learning focus should be more on the content, that is the ICS characteristics, than on the learning strategy.

In terms of concept establishment, the results contribute to studies of intercultural competencies in two ways. First, the application of multiple methods and data sources (Fig.2) serves as the main contribution. Syntex, Syntalk, and Practitioner Interview perform their genuine strengths independently and fit nicely together as complementary methods to reveal the differential domain of ICS characteristics (cognitive-affective-behavioral). Syntex is powerful for exploring observable behavior of the characteristics, Syntalk is advantageous in uncovering the reflective and emotional aspects of ICS, and the Practitioner Interview supplies data from practical, natural settings. As a result, we can pinpoint characteristics which have their accent on one of the three dimensional aspects. A closer look at descriptions in Fig.1 shows these accents. The characteristic of awareness of cultural differences, for example, has its strong emphasize on the cognitive level because the characteristic accentuates reasoning and explaining cultural differences, the willingness to recognize cultural differences as described in the characteristic of acceptance of cultural difference indicates its affective nature, and the action orientation of active sensitivity makes it suitable as an example of an ICS characteristic with a strong behavioral orientation. However, the study does not attain the same level of elaboration for each characteristic. For example, sensitivity to non-verbal behavior is less cognitively explored in comparison to group-atmosphere assessment. One possible explanation for this is that Syntex and Syntalk were not originally designed for ICS explorations. Thus, a more specific instrument should be designed to attain a more extensive ICS examination in further research on these topics. More discussion at the multilevel of ICS characteristics can be found in Panggabean (2001).

Secondly, the complementary method also serves as quality criteria by providing "trustworthiness" of a qualitative study (Mayring, 1999). Another contribution of the result is the application of the Indonesian cultural perspective to uncover basic features of ICS as summarized in Figure 2. As mentioned in earlier part of this article, attempts to explore intercultural competencies using a non-western perspective are still rare to find (Dinges & Baldwin, 1996).


Figure 2. An application of multiple methods in revealing ICS characteristics.

Finally, ICS characteristics derived in this study are subjects for further examinations, especially with respect to its generalization in various intercultural contexts. It would be challenging, for example, to explore characteristics of Indonesian ICS in international co-operations other than Indonesian-German groups.

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