IMAGINE BEING ON A BUSINESS TRIP IN CHINA AND HEARING a response from a cab driver that sounds like the N-word. Janet Reid, managing partner of Global Lead Management Consulting, actually experienced it and chose to hold her tongue despite her confusion and anger. Reid says she and her colleagues later learned that what sounded like the N-word in Mandarin actually means, "I don't know," "I don't care," or "It doesn't matter."
Anyone dealing with other cultures can benefit from what Reid calls cultural dexterity, the ability to move and shift from your own cultural frame of reference to understand another reference. It's among the skills important to not only surviving in an international environment, but thriving in it.
"International experience is critical for professionals who want to achieve senior executive ranks within an organization," says Trudy Bourgeois, founder and president of the Center for Workforce Excellence, a consulting, training, and coaching company designed to help leaders become more effective. Bourgeois says, even if the organization is not global it will be impacted by globalization, from outsourcing to increasing market share and profitability.
Sixty-one percent of senior executives surveyed nationwide by Robert Half Management Resources said their companies are doing more international business today than five years ago. Bourgeois advises professionals to build international experience into their career development plans, when planning their career goals.
There are several ways to prepare:
Know the challenges and opportunities of the marketplace. "The more you know about the global dimensions of your business, the stronger you're going to be and the better positioned you will be to make that request to work internationally," says Adonis Hoffman, chairman and founder of the American Business Leadership Institute, an organization focused on the impact of business in society. He has traveled to more than 58 countries throughout the world, meeting with business professionals and heads of state in Japan, Korea, and South Africa.
Hoffman suggests being familiar with economic and political occurrences worldwide by reading foreign policy journals and staying abreast of developments within the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund. Also, research the business, social, and political climate of the country you will be working in, and talk to people who have lived and worked there, he says.