Everyone recognises the importance of soft skills in business and those who are successful usually put the effort into developing them. Intercultural skills are closely related to soft skills but are often second place in employee development because they're more difficult to learn. However, if you do business internationally or plan to expand to the global market, these skills are essential. These skills require the development of a different mindset and a willingness to learn and follow different forms of etiquette.
Some companies are reluctant to provide training in intercultural skills because of the high cost and often the seeming lack of effectiveness. A few hours or days of seminars on sensitivity to other cultures may provide a good basic introduction but is not enough to make a meaningful impact. Many employees enjoy this training, but forget most of the information if they don't put it into use. Constant review and practice is necessary to truly attain the skills from training.
To reap the benefits of intercultural skills, you need the motivation to be constantly learning. Spending five minutes a day reading something about another culture if more helpful than trying to cram the knowledge in all at once.
Those who effectively develop these skills will increase their ability to adapt in any new work environment. They recognise common cultural differences and adjust their own attitude and behaviour accordingly. When moving into a new market, this flexibility is key.
Putting communication into context of other cultures will also help to avoid misunderstandings and faux pas. Although mistakes will happen, someone who is culturally attuned will see the reasons for them and make amends more easily. They'll also be able to 'translate' certain behaviours and be open-minded enough not to be offended.
Why intercultural skills are important
Which training methods are effective