Much can be said about the ‘soft skills trainings’, both good and bad. I’ve heard various things being said about cross-cultural skills training too. The research however shows clearly that increased cultural intelligence and intercultural skills have a whole range of benefits to the individual as well the organisations they work with.
Why would you learn about cross-cultural communication? Why would your organisation invest money in intercultural skills training? What are the benefits of learning about cross-cultural communication and enhancing those skills?
Pretty much everywhere in the world, a leader, however we define them, needs to have a significant amount of insight into oneself. A leader needs to know what makes their teams motivated, how they can achieve the best results, which people to promote and how that influences the team dynamics. The ways in which they motivate, achieve results and gain trust can vary massively across the world and individuals. The common theme seems to be the self-awareness of the leaders and how they flex (or don’t flex) their working style to achieve the best results.
The challenges may begin if a manager who has never led or maybe even worked in a truly international team is asked to do it for the first time without any previous preparation. Such throwing into the deep waters straight away might cause a lot of harm, because the fact alone that a manager was successful in one cultural context might not mean that they will be equally good at navigating an international context.
First step is very often the self-awareness, understanding what is important to you, what values are dear to your heart and how that influences your relationships with others (be it personal or professional). When you understand yourself better, you can work better with others as well.
Cross-cultural skills training specifically helps you focus on the intercultural interactions. It teaches you perspective taking as well as helps set your attention to noticing how you feel in this type of multinational environment. Self-awareness in this matter is the first step to talking about intercultural differences and work effectiveness.
Demystifies own prejudices and preconceptions
Somewhat linked to point one – the more you build your self-awareness, the more you begin to also be aware of preconceptions you might be having towards certain cultural groups. By cultural groups we don’t necessarily have to mean representatives of certain countries, but also for example the IT professionals, HR professionals, metal music fans, athletes etc.
It is important to realise that we all have those. That’s just how our brains work – they categorize information in order for us to not be overwhelmed and be able to function effectively. However, we need to be careful about how we use those categorized information. It’s especially important if we are working in a multicultural team or across different departments in a company. The way in which we initially approach a new diverse team, may have further consequences to how the cooperation will shape in the future.
If we know what preconceptions or prejudices we tend to hold, we can be more vigilant if they start affecting us. Thanks to this awareness we can quickly start acting to minimize the effect of those and start re-framing our approach to certain cultural groups, making the intercultural cooperation much more effective and nice.
Provides vocabulary to discuss multicultural interactions
Learning about cross-cultural differences, different values and working styles also provides common language to discuss intercultural relationships and challenges. Thanks to learning about cultural dimensions and various classifications, you gain the vocabulary to discuss certain issues with others who might not come from the same cultural background as you.
Using those dimensions can really be useful to start thinking about the differences and similarities, but it can’t just stop there. Learning about them can be useless if you stop at only stating them and categorizing into various regions of the world. Unfortunately although statistics is helpful in many ways, it does not serve to describe phenomenons on an individual level. This is why we need to go beyond that and actually talk about the values that we hold, talk about the differences and how they affect us, talk about how we can flex our communication styles to work better together. That’s where the language they provide comes in most handy.
Reduces stress and builds confidence
Given all of the above, improving your cultural intelligence has a positive effect on reducing the stress of being in a multicultural situation.
You have the awareness of what’s going on or at least you are willing to reflect on it and don’t take everything personally. You may also already have strategies ready for dealing with any intercultural challenges that come up. You have confidence to interact with people from different cultures (be it countries, hobby groups or professional groups).
Helps with career progression
Most tangible benefit of those five is probably the great career opportunities that may arise from you improving your cross-cultural competence. As you get more and more confident while working with multicultural teams, you might open new career doors! Things like being sent to assignments abroad, opportunity to establish new offices in international locations or applying for positions in multinational companies.
With those skills, you can contribute to multicultural teams and help companies avoid various types of mistakes that end up costing millions of dollars, be it in advertising or winning new clients.
If you are willing to do all those things and create more career development opportunities, the good news is that: you can do it. With some work and commitment, with the openness to learning and experiencing new things, you can gain skills that are very valuable in today’s job market.
Many people avoid working in intercultural teams or if they do, they are not willing to adjust or reflect on how this affects the team dynamics. In many cases it is due to fear.
With some awareness, knowledge and confidence boost from intercultural skills training you may very quickly be able to get rid of those fears and start getting the best out of the diverse teams!