Never ever, not even in my wildest dreams, had I imagined myself becoming a professional public speaker. After all, English is my third language and I was never trained to address the public.
The truth of the matter is that I started speaking in public because I could see something that I felt had to be shared with others. Having been in international business all my life, having lived all over the world, and being fluent in a multitude of languages, I could see when interacting with many of my clients that they could not see what was obvious to me. And what they could not see was the invisible wall that prevented them from reaching their goals.
In an effort to help them understand what they could not see – to make the invisible tangible – I put together a training program that dissected cultural dimensions. I presented that program to my clients (explaining the differences between cultural competency and cultural intelligence, providing them with the manual on how to read a new type of compass), who suggested I present them to the different business groups to which they belonged. Those business groups showed great interest in what I was saying, and they invited me to present at the local conferences their industries organized. Local conferences became national conferences, then international.
The results of my public speaking efforts, which were always peripheral to my consulting work and there only to facilitate the international business success of my clients, have led me to a level that took me entirely by surprise: the World Customs Organization (WCO)! Indeed, in two weeks I will be traveling to Marrakech, Morocco, to present the relevance of including cultural intelligence training to the forming of Customs officials the world over.
Members of 178 countries are scheduled to attend the conference, and my program on cultural intelligence may have an impact on the way Customs officials deal with travelers all over the world. It’s a big coup, one I never anticipated. I never wanted to be a public speaker, and I had my eyes on the business world only.
Going to Marrakech is important for several reasons:
- First, it shows that my vision of cultural intelligence is needed beyond the business world to include world government officials.
- Second, it shows that what I have to say applies to all cultures, not just the United States.
- Third, it shows that individuals, all the way to an agency of the United Nations, perceive my message to be valuable.
So what is that message that resonates so strongly with such a diverse group of people and associations, and why is it so timely? Cultural intelligence is timely because it provides a map on how to work with people who come from different cultures. Talks on globalization by people who do not fully understood how it works comforted us for a few years, making us wrongly believe that the world is flat and that everybody in the world longed to become Americanized.
In reality, the world is round and bumpy, and every culture is attached to its own communication and business style: its own social hierarchy and view of independence. To succeed and capture the market shares that this new world dynamics offers, we have to learn to adapt our own style to mirror the ones of our potential clients. It sounds easy, logical, evident. It is not.
The challenge lies behind the fact that one must admit that our way of proceeding is not universal and not exclusively better. It forces us to proceed with an open mind and a mental flexibility that we tend to have lost through childhood. Forcing ourselves to go back and re-evaluate the way we talk, the way we question, and the way we expect others to perform takes a great amount of efforts and willingness.
Until recently, few people engaged in it willingly and found it rewarding. Nowadays, everybody has to learn how to do it. The survival of corporations depend on how quickly and well its employees develop cultural intelligence, lead with the global mindset.
Looking back in time, we realize that having the West on top is a pretty recent phenomenon that started with the industrial revolution. Until then Asian nations were on top, such as China and India. They had to learn to deal with us; it’s now our turn to deal with them. And even if the change-resistant are right and the West will retrieve the upper hand quickly, learning how to positively interact with people from different cultures will remain a sharp arrow in one’s quiver.