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They will need excellent communication skills. These involve ability to listen and interpret any implicit messages that their new colleagues may be emitting, and give directions with clarity and with respect for means of communicating in host culture. Of course, communicative skills are important no matter where you are, but they are crucial in a new culture. If manager goes from Britain to, say, a Scandinavian country, it will be important to remember that local team may be much more direct in their expression of criticism, say, than in UK. Conversely, it will be important not use typically British understatement or irony because, more direct style of hosts will predispose them to interpret everything literally.
They will need to be sensitive to customs, motives and values of their new colleagues. They will only be able to achieve their goals by building good rapport with local team and this can only come in an atmosphere of mutual trust and respect. Of course rapport can be established in many different ways, but it essential to show an interest in host culture and in local team. As outsider it is important not to offend by flouting local dress code, being over familiar—or too distant, as case may be—or showing impatience with aspects of behaviour that are in keeping with local tradition.
Resilience and emotional robustness are also important. The period of settling in will involve what is known as culture shock. This involves some key stages, second of which puts a big strain on both physical and emotional strength. To begin with your managers will go through a honeymoon period in which all new experiences are exciting and stimulating. But this is followed by a period of disorientation during which homesickness, loneliness, frustration and disillusionment with host culture will cause a great deal of stress. To able to pass through this to stage of acceptance requires considerable inner strength.
Of course underpinning all these competencies is knowledge. The managers need two kinds of knowledge to be effective abroad. Firstly they need to understand theory of culture difference. Culture goes very deep and unfamiliar behaviour patterns are external signs of underlying values. It will help your managers if they understand nature of these different cultural values. Then they should have country specific knowledge that prepares them for what they will find. This should, of course, include training in local language not just for person concerned but for their family.
Brenda Townsend Hall is a writer and trainer in the field of cultural awareness and English for business and is an associate member of the ITAP International Alliance.