Working across cultures is commonly seen as a challenging experience, with many obstacles and differences often hindering progress or success. Even the best employees can fail when they are operating outside their usual and familiar cultural context. Working successfully across cultures does not have to be challenging, however, especially if you have the right intercultural knowledge, support and cultural sensitivity training. There are several examples of successful international managers who have proven that it is possible to succeed in a cross cultural context.
Is there some kind of “secret recipe” to ensure this success? Schools of global management like Thunderbird University claim that a global mindset increases the cultural sensitivity of international managers, allowing them to excel regardless of the culture they are dealing with. But what exactly do we mean by “cultural sensitivity”?
Anyone with a high level of cultural sensitivity will adapt more easily and effectively to the values, attitudes and communication styles of another culture. With a high level of cultural sensitivity, international managers or members of international teams are able to better understand and harness the potential of their multicultural team. Cultural sensitivity can help anyone working across cultures recognise what motivates people in that culture and know how to reward performance while avoiding cultural faux pas and incidents that could put the cohesion and success of the team at risk.
Cultural sensitivity can also be useful for companies when it comes to selling to or making strategic decisions with organisations or individuals from a different culture. Many western brands have shown a terrible lack of cultural sensitivity when they tried to do business across cultures. When Pepsi used light blue for its product packaging in South East Asia, for instance, they did not realise that light blue was actually the colour of mourning in that specific culture so sales decreased and Pepsi lost money changing their marketing campaign. Providing cultural awareness training to the Pepsi team responsible for this new branding could have helped avoid a costly and unnecessary situation.
Developing cultural sensitivity can take time but it can be increased through experience working across cultures. Employees working across cultures can benefit immensely from cultural sensitivity training courses which will give them a solid cross cultural framework and skills to help them to avoid cultural pitfalls and misunderstandings. The combination of international exposure and cultural sensitivity training will give anyone working across cultures the skills they need to reach their full potential in any cultural environment.