Working internationally comes with certain challenges - navigating cultural differences is just one.
Being able to work, communicate, sell to or buy from people in different countries, working in different times zones, with different ways of doing things is essential.
Many people term this skill or ability "cultural competence" or "cultural understanding". Whatvever it is called, every international business person needs it.
Awareness of cultural differences can favourably impact the success of a business transaction or relationship. Improved staff interaction, better customer relations and effective client management are all areas that will reap benefits through greater cross cultural understanding.
Although cross cultural competence in its purest form can only truly be achieved through training, coaching, language acquisition, foreign travel and cultural immersion there are 5 essential skills that everyone can employ to enhance their awareness.
Although emphasis usually lies on being a competent speaker, listening is a key skill that many of us do not exercise enough. For hightened understanding attentive and active listening is critical to be able to understand meanings, read between the lines and enable to empathise with the speaker.
Listening and speaking must work in tandem for effective cross cultural communication. Speaking well is not about accent, use of grammar and vocabulary or having the gift of the gab. Rather, clear communication is enhanced through positive speech such as encouragement, affirmation, recognition and phrasing requests clearly or expressing opinions sensitively.
Large amounts of information can be read in people's dress, body language, interaction and behaviour. Be aware of differences with your own culture and try to understand the roots of behaviours. Asking questions expands your cross cultural knowledge.
Man has been created differently and we need to recognise and understand that sometimes ccultural differences are annoying and frustrating. In these situations patience is definitely a virtue. Through patience respect is won and real understanding is achieved.
Flexibility, adaptability and open-mindedness are the route to successful cross cultural communication. Understanding, embracing and addressing cultural differences leads to the breaking of cultural barriers which results in better lines of communication, mutual trust and creative thinking.