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March 14, 2016

What to include in a cross-cultural training program

  • Corporate relocation
  • International Moves
Here's what your cross-cultural training program should cover.

For businesses, expanding globally offers a multitude of benefits. International companies have a wider and more diversified customer or client pool, and this gives them the potential for higher sales. Plus international offices often have less overhead than domestic ones. However, when companies begin to move employees overseas, it's crucial that they prepare those workers properly to live and work in an entirely different culture. That's where cross-cultural training programs come in. If you're considering international corporate relocation for your employees, your cross-cultural training program should include these important lessons:

Cultural differences

From South American countries to Asian ones, every part of the world has a completely unique culture. So, whether you're relocating employees to Brazil, Japan or Germany, it's crucial they know what to expect when it comes to differences in communication styles, values, etiquette and other social norms. German business people, for instance, have a much more direct style of communication than Americans.

Although informing your employees of these differences is important, your training program shouldn't stop there, according to Andrew Molinsky, an associate professor at Brandeis University's international business school.

"The core challenge is how to adapt and adjust their behavior in light of their differences — and that entails learning to act outside your cultural comfort zone," Molinsky told the Society for Human Resource Management.

Diverse business group in meeting.Understanding cultural differences is only the first step.

Body language and nonverbal cues

Body language and nonverbal cues account for a huge percentage of the communication we do on a daily basis. Plus, being able to read these cues effectively is crucial for anyone in a sales position who's trying to build relationships and understand customers' needs. With that in mind, it's important to teach employees what to expect in this regard when they relocate overseas. Are there any unfamiliar gestures they can expect to see regularly? Are there any motions they should avoid doing because they're considered rude? A comprehensive breakdown of these nonverbal signals will help your employees communicate more naturally and respectfully in international business settings.

Understanding how and when to build relationships

In America, it's not uncommon for colleagues to develop social friendships or even for managers to spend time with employees in casual settings. These types of relationships are often very different in other countries. Likewise, relationships between businesses and their clients or customers can be completely different across countries and cultures. Part of your cross-cultural training program should help your employees understand how to build relationships - both business and social - with others, as well as when it's appropriate to be more casually social and when it isn't.

Drills that help employees adapt

Lectures and presentations will only get your employees so far - develop drills and hands-on exercises where they can put the knowledge of cultural differences to the test and find ways to adapt their own behavior. Often, when people begin to do international business, they feel unauthentic, embarrassed or unsure about behaving in a way that's unfamiliar to them. Doing these drills and exercises before they're immersed in a different culture can help them become more comfortable using cross-cultural behaviors and cues.