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The Importance of Intercultural Skills

Posted by Eric Friedman

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As the modern workplace becomes more global, companies are putting a bigger emphasis on an employee’s intercultural skills in the office. Now more then ever, companies are no longer just looking for technical skills, they are also putting a greater focus on an employee’s ability to speak another language, demonstrate respect for others, and cope with cultural differences.

Ipsos recently conducted a survey to help better understand how intercultural skills are considered, assessed, and developed in the modern workplace. The biggest challenge they found for employers was being able to find employees with adequate intercultural skills, and most companies do not provide a comprehensive level of training to develop such skills. The research showed that companies need to work together to strengthen the development of intercultural skills in the workplace to meet the growing globalization. Students are encouraged to take Study Abroad programs that will help them develop a deeper understanding of how to learn, communicate, and work with different cultures.

Intercultural skills are important to companies for several reasons. They not only give employees a better understanding of their workplace and co-workers, but they also help them adapt to new work environments and prevent culture shock, while enhancing their cultural awareness, knowledge, and practical skills.

Building a training program based around the enhancement of intercultural skills helps employers in the long run. Most companies are going global, and even if their main workforce is in the United States (or is local), in order to compete with larger companies their workers must have a solid understanding of how to interact with other cultures. Even within the U.S., those living in New York might be used to doing business differently from those who live in Florida or anywhere in the south. Proper education about specific cultures is important, due to geographical differences wherever you live. There are important social cues that need to be observed and adapted to, depending on where you are. We’ve come up with a few tips to help you get started.
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Personal Space is Key

If you’ve ever conducted business with multiple cultures, the first thing you may have noticed is that each culture views personal space differently. Some cultures from the Middle East, for example, feel comfortable with closer physical proximity, while others, like Americans, value personal space and feel uncomfortable if someone gets too close.
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Greetings are important

This one is especially relevant. You’ll want to learn the proper way to greet a specific businessperson in his or her respective culture. For instance, in Japan, it’s customary to bow to anyone you do business with, while the Chinese only bow to those they respect.  In Latin America, many people kiss both cheeks as part of their greetings in social situations and even business meetings, usually when two women or a man and woman greet each other. Greetings can make or break a business transaction from the start. It’s important when traveling to understand how the culture you are visiting does business.
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Learn to Recognize Social Cues

Whether it’s facial expressions, laughter, or an awkward silence, the social cues given off by other cultures are important to recognize and understand. Often when people visit other countries, they get overwhelmed and miss subtle cultural cues. This leads to misinterpretation, which, in the business world, can lead to lost deals, missed opportunities, and overall company failure in the global market.

The best piece of advice for anyone traveling to a foreign country or dealing with intercultural issues is to take a moment and learn about cultural differences. Ask questions. Who knows, it might actually be fun to learn how one culture does business as opposed to another. The workplace is going global and if you aren’t on top of your game in these ways, you might fall behind.

What are some of the cultural differences you’ve noticed in your own workplace or while traveling abroad? What advice do you have for those who are struggling to cope with these differences?

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About Eric Friedman

Author


Eric Friedman is the founder and CEO of eSkill Corporation, a leading provider of online skills assessment for pre-employment selection and training. Since 2003, eSkill has tested millions of job candidates for employers worldwide such as Zappos, ADP, Coca-Cola, Randstad, and GE. With academic degrees in Psychology and Business, and experience with both mature and expansion-stage company growth, Eric has focused on how to hire and motivate team members to be the best they can be for their roles.
To learn more about Eric and eSkill, visit the company website at www.eskill.com , or contact him on LinkedIn.

7 COMMENTS Join the discussion
  • Patty April, 30, 2013

    This is the ugly side of globalization. Not knowing how to talk to/act around people that don’t have the same cultural background as you do, it’s tricky and might get you in trouble. Getting your employees and yourself to be open to change and different cultures through actual examples is the right decision for all the multinational corporations out there.

  • Troy May, 01, 2013

    Having relocated to the Middle East for a couple of months now, I’ve had a hard time making friends with my new colleagues. The way I used to do things before to integrate in a new (working) environment, didn’t seem to help me at all here. I was lucky that there was also a few other westerners here that had taught me what to do in order to have a better relation with the people here. I know I could’ve used a few tips and tricks from the company before I got here.

  • Jeanine Myers May, 01, 2013

    Intercultural skills are an essential part of a healthy work environment and effective workflow. From my own experience, I know that one of the most important things we must learn about other countries is their greeting rituals. Handshaking differences across the cultures are very confusing. In Arabian cultures they continue to hold your hand after handshake and in order not to be bewildered it’s better to learn these things beforehand.

  • Cindy Hewitt May, 03, 2013

    I’ve got caught in an embarrassing situation when preparing gift boxes for a conference. It appears that in China white, blue or black presents are inappropriate as they are the colors of death.

  • Ted Esser May, 04, 2013

    Asian cultures tend to be highly polite – their etiquette insists you give business cards with both hands, whilst Europeans and Americans don’t really pay attention to the way they give their business cards.

  • Betsy Hannigan May, 09, 2013

    The most awkward situation I’ve ever encountered was a business meeting with representative from Bulgaria. Their gestures are very misleading as they nod their heads when they disagree and visa versa!

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