“What makes someone good at dealing with other cultures?” This is not an easy question, and there are two ways of approaching it.
Here are some general qualities that make a person well-suited:

  • boundless curiosity
  • the ability to be flexible and adaptable
  • being sure of who you are, and of your own cultural roots
  • excellent communication skills
  • fluency in a number of languages
  • a high tolerance of ambiguity
  • a belief in difference as a resource, not a barrier
  • the ability to read between the lines
  • a high degree of ‘emotional intelligence’
  • a developed and broad sense of humor

Another way is to measure a person’s natural cultural style, behavior and values, and see where they fit in globally. One researcher in the intercultural field has 3 categories: linear, multi-active and reactive. Whatever culture you are from, for example, if your personal qualities are mainly linear, you are likely to find things easier with Americans, Germans, and Nordics. If you are largely multi-active, you will probably feel more at home with Latin cultures. And if you are reactive, then you may tend to prefer working with Far Eastern cultures.

Someone with a balance of the three qualities will tend to have empathy at some level with most cultures they come into contact with. It is interesting that Indians very often fall into that middle area of the cultural triangle – and Indians have been remarkably successful at operating out of their home environment.

Clearly, there are also cases where people who are dominant in one category manage excellently with their opposites, but they rely on a good dose of the qualities listed at the beginning! What do you think makes someone good at dealing with other cultures?