In today’s global market, an international mindset is paramount to good business practice. From staff relocating to our shores, to Australian talent assigned overseas and to the majority of employees who interact on a daily basis with colleagues, suppliers, customers and clients based in other countries, cultural intelligence is the key to success.
Patti McCarthy from Cultural Chemistry, a specialist in cross-cultural consulting, defines cultural intelligence as “a knowledge of other people’s behaviours, combined with a mindfulness of your own and the behavioural skills to be able to observe behavioural differences without judgement.”
McCarthy explains that as further globalisation is unavoidable, “it is becoming a critical skill to communicate with people of all different cultures and to understand how business is conducted in specific countries. People are increasingly working across different time zones and the client expects a seamless team. For the organisation to be efficient they must be able to deliver the same level of service, no matter what country the employee is in.”
So how can cultural intelligence be cultivated? McCarthy suggests “a combination of knowledge and information about business culture and societal standards” as a starting point, but points out that a truly culturally intelligent person knows to look for difference and be interested in why these differences happen. He or she should then be able to modify his or her attitudes, behaviour and reactions according to the culturally acceptable norms of the country with which they are engaging.
These skills can be learnt, according to experts in the cross cultural training field. Many believe that it is the role of the organisation to develop culturally intelligent team members and to provide sufficient training for both middle management and senior level staff.
Although some may claim that people will eventually acquire some of this knowledge during their assignment, McCarthy asks, “How many business objectives will fail to be met while your employee is figuring it out the hard way? Do you really want your employees to be practicing their techniques on your clients?”
Some examples of culturally diverse customs may include business culture and expectations, office etiquette, management style, attitudes to time and planning, out of business hours availability, how people socialise, whether people entertain at home or not and whether invitations require a formal reply.
McCarthy explains that miscommunication may stem from misguided expectations and a lack of anticipation that other people might operate differently. A classic example is contracts: “In Australia and USA, a contract signals the end of negotiations and the agreement of a deal. In India and China, changes can still be requested after the contract has been drawn up; agreeing to the contract is simply an indication that progress has been made.”
Training to develop a global mindset promotes effective communication, increased performance, fulfilled objectives and content employees. Despite overwhelming cultural differences around the world and within workplaces in Australia, cultural intelligence is one of the key solutions to building effective relationships and eliminating misunderstandings which may lead to profit loss or even failed expatriate postings. These are certainly skills which can benefit any employee in today’s international market.
Thank you to our expert:
Patti McCarthy, Cultural Chemistry, Cross-cultural Consulting and Expatriate Coaching
Lana Lachyani is a Melbourne-based Freelance Writer and Communications Consultant. Lana lived overseas for several years, working across Europe and the Middle East before returning to Australia in 2012.