We live in an increasingly globalized world, one in which an ever-increasing number of individuals work for organizations that operate in multiple countries. Additionally, a vast number of organizations are “going global,” marketing a wide range of products and services—food and beverages, transportation, cosmetics, machinery and more—across the world. Joining today’s global workforce offers countless benefits—along with some challenges—both professional and personal.
Expand your worldview by working with a diverse group of individuals from different cultures. It can be exciting to learn about new cultures and customs—merely by chatting with the person one cube over.
Increase your creativity. Studies show that resourcefulness increases when people are exposed to new outlooks and ideas.
Learn a new language. Working with people who speak other languages allows you to pick up new languages relatively quickly. (And your employer may pay for courses that help you increase your fluency even faster.)
Enjoy international travel. As an employee of a global company, you may be given the opportunity to work and/or travel the world—wherever the company maintains offices. You may even enjoy an opportunity to train abroad, with both training and travel funded by your organization.
All that being said, be aware that in working with people of different nationalities you’re likely to experience numerous unintended misunderstandings. Although we take manners, gestures, body language, physical proximity and how we experience time for granted, cultural context influences every aspect of these behaviors.
For example, in some cultures, disagreements among team members are considered positive; in others, forceful arguments are offensive. Another example: In the U.S. we value punctuality, but in many Latin American countries, attitudes toward time are more relaxed.
To avoid misunderstandings, ask questions, remain open and remember that the other person’s perspective likely differs from yours. Read as much as possible about the culture you’ll be working with and observe how people interact with each other and with you.
Should you join a global company that offers training in the countries and cultures where it conducts business—sign up for it. That way, you’ll understand at least some of the potential pitfalls of cross-cultural communication and be prepared to change your behavior as needed.
The best part of being part of a global organization may be how attractive you will become to employers. Global firms are hungry for people with cross-cultural experience—and you could be one of them!