A business card slipped into a back pocket; the silence during a negotiation; or a gift presented at a meeting, communication cues are often subtle or even unspoken when working with other cultures. But if missed, it could be a defining factor in forming a successful relationship or even securing new business.
Globalization is impacting every aspect of our lives. In 2017, more than 23 million jobs were tied to foreign trade. In the U.S., one in five students speak or are learning a second language. Understanding culture norms, addressing differences and learning how to communicate effectively with culturally diverse groups are more important than ever before.
From technology and HR to product development and customer service, culture impacts all aspects of business. Challenges emerge in areas where people are different from the dominant culture, whether that means race, gender, age, religion or other.
In today’s global economy, where businesses are required to interact effectively with a culturally-diverse marketplace, traditional communication strategies no longer work. One of the most well-known examples of why cultural awareness is so important is the mergee between Daimler-Benz and Chrysler Corporation. Daimler’s reserved more structured business approach clashed with Chrysler’s casual, entrepreneurial culture and made it difficult for the newly-formed company to find common ground and build a business together.
One way to strengthen cross-cultural competency is with diversity training. Organizations like the Global Fluency Institute helps professionals understand the traditions, beliefs, and behaviors that are commonly shared among a particular group, along with the skills to leverage cultural diversity in the workplace. Here’s an example.
In a training session, a mock negotiation explores the communication process between two cultures in a common business situation - negotiating a sale. Participants are divided into two separate teams. One team represents the Buyer, an American company which has sent its top sales professionals and best negotiators to close the deal. The second team, the Seller, represents a company located in a small region of a foreign country. This team includes the owner of the company and support staff. Both sides are provided with a set of instructions for the business transaction. For this exercise, team members representing the foreign company are given cultural characteristics of their fictitious country and the protocols for conducting business, such as: the company owner always attends business meetings and expects the owner of the other company to attend as well. A subordinate staff member speaks on behalf of the company owner. Handshakes and direct eye-contact are not customary.The American team knows little about the Seller’s cultural background or the proper etiquette of doing business.
As roles are played, embedded beliefs and practices are exposed. By the end of the session, it’s easy to see how differences may cause miscommunication and potentially derail business.
TRAINING FOR CHANGE
Employers are embracing diversity-led practices, especially the ability to interact with people from other cultures, as a necessary skill for business professionals. The benefits of cross-cultural training include:
Strengths the ability to compete globally. Diversity and inclusion are no longer an option. All aspects of business, including building relationships and problem-solving, are impacted by culture and in order to compete globally, companies will need to demonstrate a commitment to diversity.
Builds business. Strengthens the ability to identify and capitalize on new financial opportunities.
Enhances recruitment and retention efforts. Cross-cultural training has become an important talent management strategy in many leading organizations. Equipping employees with practical skills helps in building and leading a diverse organization and work group.
Better ability to adapt to economic changes. Helps employers to adapt and respond to shifts in the economy.
Supports local economic long-term. Improving global and cultural awareness not only benefits business, but it also enhances economic growth in local markets.
Clearly, there is a business case for creating a diverse workforce - one that works collaboratively together and is prepared to compete in a global community and economy.