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Emerald Group Publishing Limited
Copyright © 2012, Emerald Group Publishing Limited
How do I improve intercultural relations?
Article Type: Q&A From: Strategic HR Review, Volume 11, Issue 5
Leading industry experts answer your strategic questions
Elizabeth HerbertElizabeth Herbert is based at Crown Relocations, London.
Moving to a new country and working with people from other cultures and backgrounds can pose a major challenge for relocating assignees and their families. “False” expectations in terms of living and working conditions, as well as language barriers and differences in communication styles, often lead to significant culture shock and can make an assignment a difficult task. Working, communicating and doing business with people and companies from other cultures can therefore be an extremely daunting and challenging experience.
Pros and cons for employees in a cross cultural environment
If you work for an international company, teams might incorporate members from several different countries and cultural backgrounds, which can complicate group dynamics and therefore make working in a team even more complex. Colleagues might often have varying working behaviors and expectations and may also expect you to communicate in the working language. You would also have the added pressure of accomplishing results in an unfamiliar working environment.
However working in a multicultural environment can also be a fascinating and rewarding experience as employees develop personal and professional skills regarding working with others and become more conscious of their own reactions and behaviors.
The benefits of intercultural training
As organizations compete in an increasingly globalized and culturally diverse international market, it is crucial for employees to understand the different approaches to business that they may encounter in a different country. For example business meetings in the US will have a very different structure and pattern to those in Japan. Failure to understand the cultural manifestations of a different culture can be disastrous in a business setting and can have huge financial repercussions.
Intercultural training promotes both personal and professional skills development and therefore can increase the quality and retainment of staff within an organization. This reduces costs to an organization and contributes significantly to international success and reputation.
Addressing relocation challenges
When people are moving to work in a different culture and country, we encourage assignees to undertake intercultural training a few weeks (recommended time frame is three to six weeks) after they have relocated. This will give them the chance to get a first impression of their new life in the host culture and they can discuss actual experiences as well as lived and perceived challenges with the local trainer.
Ultimately international companies who provide intercultural training for their relocating employees will benefit greatly from their positive assignment experiences. The acquired intercultural skills and competencies of assignees help to increase an international company’s overall success and productivity while increasing staff retainment and skills diversity.
Involving the whole family
Relocating employees often relocate with their families so it is crucial to also address the well-being and efficient adaptation of an assignee’s dependents to ensure a successful international assignment.We involve the whole family in the adjustment process as it poses challenges for spouse and children as well. For example spouses might not be able to work in the new location and their social circle may be limited. Children will need to start in a new school and make new friends.
It is crucial to the success of an international assignment that the whole family settles in. We help assignees to find coping strategies and provide useful hints and tips to support them in their family’s daily adjustment to the new surroundings. Single assignees are also encouraged to interact with work colleagues and others of a different cultural background. They are given hints and tips on how to communicate and interact socially within the host location and also to self-reflect on their own cultural background and behavior to ensure a good, effective cross-cultural working practice.
The value of intercultural competence
Working in a multicultural environment might sound overwhelming and extremely challenging but it can also be a truly fascinating and rewarding experience. Preparation, patience and respect for other cultures are vital and many multicultural teams show more potential for innovations than teams from just one nationality. Intercultural competence – feeling at ease with and knowing how to communicate across cultures – is therefore vital and invaluable skill for all international employees and is especially relevant in today’s global business world.
About the author
Elizabeth Herbert is Intercultural Training Manager at Crown Relocations. Based in the London office, she manages the Global Passport intercultural training service in the EMEA area. Herbert has an MA in Intercultural Communication and has vast intercultural experience, from cross-cultural communications in the UK to undertaking community work and teaching projects abroad. Elizabeth Herbert can be contacted at: firstname.lastname@example.org