Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Beyond cultural briefings

Cultural briefings, consisting mostly of information “dumps” and pointers on etiquette, can be helpful for leisure travel but they are certainly not sufficient for cross-cultural business effectiveness. Having been privileged to live and work in six different countries, I am a firm believer that it is not enough to learn “facts” about other countries and cultures. We need to understand the “deeper” underlying culture.

Despite this, much of what goes by the name of cross-cultural training today is designed to provide cultural “information” to individuals who may be working with people from different cultures. In addition to the standard, factual information dump, training often includes a description of contrasting cultural “dimensions” (for instance: the US is described as an “individualistic” culture, where the individual reigns supreme vs. Mexico or Japan which are “group oriented” cultures). This can be a helpful and necessary way to acquire a cognitive understanding of the “other” culture but it can also lead to inaccurate and misleading stereotypes which do not help foster cultural acceptance.

Another important element is often overlooked in cultural training. Our ability to manage across cultures requires a substantial use of what we call “emotional intelligence”. We now have strong, empirical data which allows us to measure, describe and train emotional intelligence in ways that are meaningful for cross-cultural adaptation. Hence, in an economy as global as the one we live and work in, where we are constantly bombarded with factual and technical information, it is time to reevaluate how we prepare ourselves and our teams for vital cross-cultural business interaction. Read more...

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