Think and understand quickly to make meaningful, sound decisions. Be fluid and able to adapt to changing conditions.

Business leaders are like athletes: They need to be able to adapt to rapidly changing elements in their environment and respond with speed, power, and accuracy.

Unlike in sports, however, where it’s relatively easy to perceive what your opponents or teammates are doing and respond accordingly, the things that business professionals need to pay attention to and respond to are often hidden in nuance.

That’s because, while sports require physical agility, business requires cultural agility.

In today’s global market, business leaders and organizations need to be able to work effectively across cultures. This demands a certain skillset. Business professionals need to be able to recognize, and respond appropriately, to different behaviors and worldviews in order to build strong working relationships across cultures. Unfortunately, this isn’t as simple as it might sound.

When we meet on the playing field of business, we tend to dress alike, and we speak about the same things that are important to us. But this often masks the different assumptions and worldviews that we have, causing us to miss information that’s critical to building relationships and working together more effectively. Other times, we do notice cultural differences, but simply don’t know what to make of them.

If we strive to recognize cultural behaviors that we don’t understand rather than simply disregarding them, we can often work them out in our minds until we realize, “Oh, that’s what that was about.” That’s perception, which is the first step toward cultural agility.

The second part is then, how do you act? How do you know how to act in a way that will be relevant and important to the other person, and that he or she will understand and respond to favorably?

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