While I worked a little on Somali this week, it hasn’t been the main focus. (Waan ka xumahay!) I’ve been preparing three talks taking place over the course of two weeks, all around cultural awareness. As a reader of this blog, you are probably fascinated with other cultures as I am. I will try to challenge you as I do my live audiences. If you want to know about other cultures, you must work: sitting down, asking questions, and learning. Put your ego aside.
A company can display their genuine interest in international clients by showcasing the language abilities and cultural interests among their employees. Clients enjoy connecting personally with people in your organization, so companies should present their most personal face by recruiting those with exceptional language skills and cultural intelligence.
I recently had the opportunity to help out with a delegation from Russia. The company my friend works for had some potential clients come from Russia to take a tour of the local facility in Minnesota. Although the company hired a professional interpreter, I was asked to accompany the delegation to a couple of dinners because I speak Russian.
After long days of tours and presentations, these conversations were relaxing for them. We didn’t talk “shop”; we talked about life in Russia vs. Minnesota, such as traffic and prices and we learned a lot about one another. They could talk in their native language about their culture and learn more about US and Minnesota culture. Meals were not typical work-trip meals but time spent in pleasant company, relaxing and learning.
Towards the end of the visit, one of the Russians smiled and said, “How surprising that we come to the US and we keep finding people who speak Russian!” My presence told these Russian potential customers that the company with whom they were thinking of partnering cared enough to connect with them in a substantial way and to surround them with an atmosphere that would be comfortable for them.
Significantly, these conversations took place with a “pure” American, so they could peer more directly into the cultural divide. We have many immigrants from Russia in Minnesota; our interpreter was one. I, however, was a complete outsider: fifth generation American, no Russian background. I had no reason to learn Russian culture except out of personal interest. They were intrigued. Why did you learn Russian? What do you think of Russian culture? Tell us how Americans think! My interest in people and their background, substantiated by work in learning languages, made a profound impression.
Ultimately, the Russian guests had a nice time and left with a great impression of the US and my friend’s company. My affiliation with my friend’s company and my personal interest in Russian culture demonstrated that the company and our country are interested in these guests by going the extra mile to make a connection with these potential customers.
Companies in the US will attract more interest from foreign clients if they cultivate linguistic knowledge and cultural intelligence, whether by recruiting employees with these skills, finding existing employees who possess them, or training current employees in them. My friend’s company made a wonderful impression on these potential customers by bringing me in, not because of me per se but because they made the effort to connect with the clients’ language and culture. As the marketplace becomes more global, offering up culture and language ambassadors will provide an important edge to winning over clients.
What do you think are cost-effective ways that companies can prepare themselves to make great impressions on foreign clients?
- Russian American Cultural Heritage Center to Celebrate 10th Anniversary (voicerussia.com)
- Real Russia Video Journey 1 (ladaray.wordpress.com)
- Our Brothers and Sisters (everytongueproclaim.wordpress.com)
I recently read an article (Ang & Inkpen 2008) that discussed success among companies that off-shore services; companies that already display high cultural intelligence firm-wide will succeed more in their off-shore ventures. Cultural intelligence includes four aspects: 1) challenging one’s cultural assumptions consciously (metacognitive), 2) knowledge of other cultures (cognitive), 3) staying motivated in becoming cultural intelligent (motivational), and 4) performing culturally correct speech and non-speech acts (behavioral). When a firm already excels in these areas–especially on the executive level–the authors of the article call this firm-wide cultural intelligence. When firms possess this level of cultural intelligence, they succeed more in offshore ventures. Cultural intelligence brings success in challenging intercultural situations like off-shoring.
If we assume that offshore ventures will become more common as the global marketplace dominates more of the economy, then firm-wide cultural intelligence will determine companies’ success. The most important question that remains is how do firms increase firm-wide cultural intelligence? Firm-wide cultural intelligence requires fostering cultural intelligence among its individuals. I will now focus on the work necessary to raise individual cultural intelligence through teaching languages.
Learning languages naturally leads to higher overall cultural intelligence based on the four criteria above. Speaking and listening to a language force one to think in a different way. One has to move out of an intuitive mode of communication to a highly self-conscious one (metacognitive). As a result, one gains knowledge about the language and the culture in which it is found (cognitive). Since no language exists in a vacuum, learning the language keeps one in constant contact with the culture. Staying motivated to learn a language keeps one learning about the culture (motivational). Learning about the language heightens interest in the culture the language comes from. Finally, the language becomes the most essential feature in speaking and acting correctly in the culture (behavioral).
Cultural intelligence in one area offers advantages for another. Even if I begin my language/cultural study with Mexico, the increased cultural intelligence transfers to, for example, India. I already know that I have to challenge my cultural assumptions, and that I have to learn aspects of Indian culture. I’ve demonstrated that I’m motivated, and I’m ready to discover the particular speech and actions that are appropriate for various Indian cultural situations. After India I can move into another language/culture, such as the Philippines or China. Cultural intelligence begets more cultural intelligence quickly and easily. Additionally, the skills I use to learn one language transfer to another language.
Firms would find themselves more successful if they hire and foster culturally intelligent individuals. Those knowledgeable in another language–any other language–would stand out as the best candidates. Moreover, by offering ways for workers to increase cultural intelligence–especially through language-study–the firm has more in-house cultural intelligence to draw from for future leadership positions. Firms will enjoy more long-term success in the global marketplace if they invest time and money in language-learning for employees.
If you’re in favor of firms investing more in language and culture training, please “like” this post. Since language and culture study do not offer short-term gains for a firm, what are ways to convince firms to invest in this long-term project of increasing cultural intelligence? Employees already don’t have enough time–where would that time come from? Please let me know your thoughts, below.
- Cultural intelligence (wakeupzambia.wordpress.com)
- What makes a language useful? (lovinglanguage.wordpress.com)
- Cultural Intelligence is the Art of Understanding Empathy Across Cultures. (zestnzen.wordpress.com)
- Culture and context: the hand-holding conundrum (iwasanexpatwife.com)
- How Do You Manage Intercultural Issues in Your Teams? (agile.dzone.com)
- Why Americans Need to Learn a Second Language (travelrelapse.com)
- Learning the language of Khmer (kath202.wordpress.com)