How many times have you seen students, executives or managers successfully working in their home-country based organizations, arriving for an international assignment overseas and deteriorating after a few months or a couple of years? How can one explain such a failure or discomfort, considering these professionals pride themselves with competence, skills, experience that have enabled them to reach to this place or position?
Unlike technical knowledge, cross-cultural understanding isn’t one of those things you can master by reading a guide or absorbing a simple formula.
The appearance, accents, names and spoken language are noticeable at once. These are all intangibles. However, punctuality, commitment, status, authority, accountability, negotiation, planning, teamwork, limitations and boundaries are not immediately apparent.
So, what is the hurdle in amalgamating these skills across different geography, culture and continue to succeed the same way? Why doesn’t the communication flow fluidly, making interactions seem awkward?
One of the main reasons why this happens is the lack of cross-cultural skills.
Theoretically, cross-cultural intelligence is one’s ability to understand others’ behavior, eliminating judgment and communicating effectively. The essence of this is understanding similarities, filling the gap of differences and interacting with the same familiarity you would with someone from your own culture. It’s very important to understand these differences as it can very easily reduce effectiveness at work and eventually, affect your career.
In order to be successful, it is critical to ensure that you’re prepared to work in harmony, building better relationships throughout your cross-cultural interactions. To help you through, here are a few winning skills for management in a culturally diverse environment:
Curiosity: observing cross-cultural behavior in an intriguing way, without any preconceived notions and judgements.
Managing diversity: interacting with people from different cultural backgrounds to build a strong team and work together effectively.
Keeping up with the world: keeping informed on the on-going trends, current affairs and events across the world.
Interpersonal communications: being persuasive in communication while genuinely hearing what others communicate to you.
Motivation: leading to inspire employees and colleagues, promoting responsibility, ownership, initiative, contribution and collaboration.
Flexibility: adapting to a wide array of operational practices, styles and social environments.
Patience: working with other people’s speed and plans, keeping your attention on goals and how to achieve them.
Inclusivity: making people feel at ease, understood and valued for their perspectives.
Understanding the self: understanding your core values and the relevance they hold in your attitude and behavior.
When talking about cross-cultural knowledge we refer to components such as etiquette, language expressions, way of thinking and perceiving, the level of assertiveness, relationship with time, power, levels of individualism, amongst others. We know the world is not connected, much closer and convenient, where boundaries are limitless and professional-personal lives are more transparent. Before entering new waters, there are questions that you ask yourself. What do I know about this country? How does this industry work? How do people behave here and how do their customs and habits differ?
So, here’s my invitation to you – students, managers and future leaders, who have an interest in developing a career or simply live abroad, is to work on your cross-cultural skills. Make the most of every opportunity with an open minded perspective and practice it at work, in meetings and projects, business or vacation, training workshop, studies or working your day job, abroad. When facing people who seem different than you or strange at first, eliminate the judgment and open yourself to engagement as if it were one of yours. By no means am I suggesting that you try to be someone else. Your authenticity is key and you will find yourself settling in just fine once you can understand, respect and connect with those who look different than you.