Today, many companies operate on a global basis. Cultural fluency, or the ability to understand the opinions and conventions of various cultures and change one’s working style accordingly, is required for successful management of this ever-changing dynamic.

Cultural fluency isn’t merely pleasant to have. It is a requirement in today’s environment, affecting both a leader’s work connections and the company’s success.

Identifying Your Starting Point

Expert Jane Hyun advises that the first step in developing cultural fluency is to honestly assess one’s degree of ability. The Intercultural Development Inventory (IDI), for example, might serve as a beginning point in this process. This exam assesses a leader’s mentality, which can range from denial to complete acceptance of cultural differences, and all in between. By doing so, the IDI finds strengths to be proud of—as well as shortcomings that may require additional attention.

Developing Skills

Leaders can begin refining their cultural fluency skills after conducting an honest self-assessment. The technique has three main elements, according to Keith Warburton, creator of the cultural fluency organisation Global Business Culture:

Increasing awareness – Leaders must accept intellectually that cultural variations between countries can have a substantial impact on any global firm. They must also understand that they are responsible for this process as the leader.

The advancement of knowledge – It is not enough to be aware of cultural differences. Leaders must also gain specific knowledge in order to properly engage with different markets. “When dealing with India or Brazil, the modifications required will be very different,” Warburton points out.

Incorporating insight into business operations – Once a leader has gained awareness and understanding, these elements must be weaved into the daily operations of the company. Every decision taken in a global environment, according to Warburton, has the potential to have unintended cultural implications.


A Continuous Process

A leader is ready to enter the battle of culturally competent contact once he or she has completed this legwork. From here on out, the essential abilities required are similar to those required in every interaction: leaders must listen, be compassionate, and participate appropriately. All of these activities, however, must be completed with cultural differences and accommodations in mind.

Reaping the Benefits

When a global leader recognises the art of cultural fluency, he or she will undoubtedly reap more personal success—but there is also a trickle-down effect, according to Keith Warburton.

Communication – In many cases, a good communication style in one country is seen as a poor communication style in another. Culturally competent employees are more familiar with their market than you are, and they will work to localise your message for optimal impact.

Presentations – From one country to the next, the expectations for presentation styles and information can be vastly different. Presenters that are culturally competent adjust their delivery style to fit the expectations of their audience.

Images – Specific cultures are offended by portrayals of women in certain types of dress, a photograph of three people together, the soles of shoes, names printed in red, and a slew of other things. Marketers who are culturally aware are aware of these issues and incorporate them into their business.

Negotiations – In Japan, people prioritise building a good long-term relationship before ever discussing business. Finns prefer to start with what they regard to be a “fair” price; Indians are hesitant to accept the first price provided. In Sweden, people have a lot of authority entrusted to them, whereas in the Gulf, you usually need to speak with the top guy. Each country has its own set of tacit standards for how a negotiation will be handled.” Leaders and more frontline salespeople have the best chance of succeeding in a global environment if they understand these differences.

It takes a lot of material to become culturally competent, but the good news is that you can take your time to learn it.