: Success via Diversity / : Diversidad y éxito empresarial / : Mehr Erfolg durch Diversity
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Sonja App Premium Member Group moderatorThe company name is only visible to registered members.21 Jun 2011, 09:56 am
Intercultural competence in business
1. How important is intercultural competence for people working in international companies?
As globalization increases so more and more people have contact with people from other cultures than ever before. Companies which operate internationally recognize that a key skill for many of their staff is the ability to work effectively with people from other cultures. Culture is not just about national culture but concerns any shared set of attitudes, values, meanings and behaviour; sometimes regional, professional or corporate cultures are just as important as national culture. Gender, age and religion can also play a significant role.
For international companies intercultural competence is not only important for managers but for a wide range of staff. The team assistant may not be involved in negotiations but can well be the first point of contact with important visitors who can be customers or business partners; the service engineer may work on a site well away from their home culture under challenging conditions; the global procurement expert will be dealing with people from all over the globe; the software architect will be harnessing the expertise of international colleagues in virtual project teams to develop innovative solutions.
Businesses are realising that intercultural competence is a key to leveraging business advantages arising from such encounters. It is not just a question of avoiding mistakes but of making sure that interaction works as well as it possibly can and thus creating competitive advantage from diversity.
2. What does it mean to be interculturally competent?
There is a vast literature on this topic but to me it boils down to some key traits which are, of course, important in any human interaction but which take on a new significance in the international context. They include curiosity about different cultures, willingness to learn foreign languages, knowledge about other cultures but also a fundamental ability to observe without making value judgements and cope with complexity and ambiguity.
3. How can people develop their intercultural skills?
Of course you can argue that you are either born with skills like this or not. I believe that we can help people to develop these skills. This can take place in the family or in school and university but also need to be developed in the business context. It is essential for individuals to be encouraged not only to have international experience but also to reflect on that experience in a structured way. This is not a one off event but part of a life long learning experience.
4. What are the main trends in intercultural training?
I am noticing a number of key trends. The target group of training is changing: while a few years ago the focus was on those going on foreign assignments now there is an increasing demand from project teams. This has also meant that there is more focus on function-specific culture general training rather than general training for a specific national or regional culture. The most important development is the recognition that intercultural training is not a stand-alone but only relevant in combination with training for a particular activity in a specific business context.
Robert Gibson is responsible for intercultural training at Siemens AG for individuals, teams and organizations. He is from the UK and studied at the universities of Oxford and Exeter before moving to Germany in 1985. He has worked for the last 30 years for schools, universities and government institutions in the field of international education and training.
He was a founder of SIETAR Deutschland (Society for Intercultural Education, Training and Research) and a Vice-President of SIETAR Europa. His publications include ‘International Business Communication’ Cornelsen Verlag, 2000 and a regular column on intercultural communication in the magazine ‘Business Spotlight’. He is a guest lecturer at the Universität der Künste in Berlin.
Further information on Robert Gibson and his publications:
Robert Gibson on XING
International Business Communication
The moderation team of the group would like to express their thanks to Robert Gibson for giving this interview.
This interview was conducted by Sonja App. Sonja is a management consultant and intercultural trainer and coach, as well as founder and moderator of the largest international virtual community relating to the area of Diversity Management: “Mehr Erfolg durch Diversity / : Success via Diversity / : Diversidad y éxito empresarial"
Further information on the community: http://www.erfolg-durch-diversity.de
Further information on Sonja App: http://www.sonja-app.com
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