The global marketplace is an extremely competitive world where intercultural skills are no longer just an advantage but a requirement. As companies increasingly ask their employees to work on a global scale to stay ahead of the game, they need to ensure they select people not only for their technical skills and international experience, but for their intercultural skills.
Employees who have extensive international experience will often have an increased awareness and understanding of other cultures and how they must adapt their style, but they may not always have the skills to adapt their style or cope with the cultural differences they encounter. By providing employees opportunities to get international experience while at the same time supporting them with intercultural training, they will develop the intercultural competence required for international success.
So why is international experience so beneficial? Whether through an international assignment, short business trip, training course or voluntary experience, international experience exposes people to different cultures and situations. The more people interact, understand and integrate into other cultures, the more they will have opportunities to develop their intercultural skills and awareness. A one-week holiday in Madrid with British friends might give you an insight into a different culture, for example, but it will not help you to develop the deeper skills and know-how to work effectively internationally. A long-term international assignment in Singapore, on the other hand, will be much more valuable.
Toby Fowlston, Director of Commercial and Professional Services at Robert Walters, pointed out in an article by The Evening Standard that: “Overseas experience on a CV is seen as a definite positive by recruiting managers as it demonstrates a more rounded and broader knowledge”. Employees with international experience bring with them a pool of potential new strategies, skills and perspectives which can add tremendous value to any global organisation.
Spending time abroad exposes you to different approaches to managing everyday matters in the social as well as the business sphere. International experience alone will not give you intercultural competence however, so it is important that you actively keep an open-mind, ask questions and develop your understanding of the culture throughout the experience to understand the cultural differences at play and how they influence the business and social environments.
By combining international experience with intercultural training and an active curiosity about the culture, you can develop the following key areas.
Decision making, an integral part of problem solving, can be closely linked to hierarchy within a business. Middle management tends to make decisions in flat hierarchy structures, while senior managers usually make decisions in top-down hierarchical structures. Cultural attitudes towards hierarchy will influence how organisations are naturally structured and how people with seniority or experience are treated. Regular exposure to other cultures through short-term visits or international assignments can help you to see different approaches and attitudes like how hierarchy impacts business so as to be better prepared to adapt your own problem-solving techniques when working internationally.
Some cultures prefer a direct communication style and use negative criticism as a means of constructive guidance. In other cultures, quite the opposite is true and indirect communication involves consideration and moderation. What is regarded as acceptable for some could be interpreted as inconsiderate and offensive by others. There is no right or wrong to these styles as both clearly have their advantages and disadvantages. International experience supported by intercultural training can help you to understand and appreciate different communication styles so that you can better anticipate any variation of approach, formality or directness in future global interactions.
Fluency in a foreign language is a crucial skill that allows you to improve relationships and networking abroad, making you and your organisation more competitive in the global marketplace. While English is the most common language of global business, it is important to understand your foreign counterparts’ language too where possible as not doing so can put you at a significant disadvantage. If, for example, you are in conducting a meeting with some Chinese counterparts for the first time, you could lose power and credibility and even hurt your relationship if you cannot show an attempt to say a few key expressions in Mandarin. While you will probably not be expected to speak it fluently, you can create enormous opportunities by showing an interest in the language and using it to build trust.
Intercultural competence is vital for anyone operating in the global marketplace. It opens doors to new experiences, career opportunities and greater international performance. The combination of international experience and an intercultural training course can solidify and enhance your ability to operate effectively on a global scale. Through developed problem-solving, communication and language skills as well as cultural understanding and sensitivity, you will be more equipped to avoid cultural faux-pas and create opportunities where others may not be able to.
© Communicaid Group Ltd. 2013