The importance of intercultural skills in the workplace
2015, October, 19 Øyvind Nyborg

The importance of intercultural skills in the workplace

As the modern workplace becomes more global, companies are putting a bigger emphasis on an employee’s intercultural skills in the office. Now more than ever, companies are no longer just looking for technical skills, they are also putting a greater focus on an employee’s ability to speak another language, demonstrate respect for others, and cope with cultural differences.

 Intercultural skills are important to companies for several reasons.
They not only give employees a better understanding of their workplace and co-workers, but they also help them adapt to new work environments and prevent culture shock while enhancing their cultural awareness, knowledge, and practical skills.

Proper education about specific cultures is important, due to geographical differences wherever you live. Even inside your own country there are differences from north to south, and east to west. There are important social cues that need to be observed and adapted to, depending on where you are.

Here I have listed three examples that I believe could help you get started:

  • Personal space is key
    If you’ve ever conducted business with multiple cultures, the first thing you may have noticed is that each culture views personal space differently. Some cultures from the Middle East, for example, feel comfortable with closer physical proximity, while others, like Americans, value personal space and feel uncomfortable if someone gets too close.
  • Greetings are important
    This one is especially relevant. You’ll want to learn the proper way to greet a specific businessperson in his or her respective culture. For instance, in Japan, it’s customary to bow to anyone you do business with, while the Chinese only bow to those they respect.  In Latin America, many people kiss both cheeks as part of their greetings in social situations and even business meetings, usually when two women or a man and woman greet each other. Greetings can make or break a business transaction from the start. It’s important when traveling to understand how the culture you’re visiting does business.
  • Learn to recognize social cues
    Whether it’s facial expressions, laughter, or an awkward silence, the social cues given off by other cultures are important to recognize and understand. Often when people visit other countries, they get overwhelmed and miss subtle cultural cues. This leads to misinterpretation, which, in the business world, can lead to lost deals, missed opportunities, and overall company failure in the global market.

The best piece of advice for anyone traveling to a foreign country or dealing with intercultural issues is to take a moment and learn about cultural differences. Ask questions. Who knows, it might actually be fun to learn how one culture does business as opposed to another. The workplace is going global and if you aren’t on top of your game in these ways, you might fall behind.

Øyvind Nyborg

Øyvind Nyborg

I am not a blogger! I just put my thoughts into writing some times...
It's like capturing snippets of life at various stages, offering me a window into my own evolution.

Øyvind Nyborg