At its most basic level, international business involves an exchange or transaction between countries in separate geographical locations. While that sounds simple enough, challenges can and do arise in conducting business with countries outside one’s own, especially when it involves differing trade laws, cultures, currencies, or general business practices. 

To be successful today, business professionals need to possess the knowledge and skills to prevent and handle costly mistakes that can occur in transnational business. This guide explores eight essential international business skills to master.

1. Collaboration capabilities

Effective collaboration, the ability to work with others in achieving a shared goal, involves exercising measures of leadership and humility. You need to know when to stand up for your business and goals and when to fall back and let others assume the lead. Effective professionals recognize the benefits of collaboration and understand the importance of working with local and international team members in working toward goals. 

2. Networking skills

Business agents should be prolific networkers, especially with regard to international business networking. The ability to quickly build rapport and establish connections with professionals in other countries, especially those who are in the same or a related industry, can lead to new or enhanced international business opportunities. 

3. Cultural awareness

Having a keen awareness of the languages, beliefs, traditions, international business practices, and social norms of each culture in which you do business can help professionals and their companies prevent situations ranging from awkward situations to missed or lost deals.  

4. Cross-cultural communication skills

Working in international business requires having excellent communication skills, plus the ability to effectively communicate across cultures. Such communication can be verbal, gestural, or written. It’s also vital to recognize and read non-verbal body language communication cues. 

These cues can differ between cultures, which highlights the importance of maintaining cultural awareness. Learning the languages of other cultures can help improve communication in transnational business.

5. Emotional intelligence

Emotional intelligence is one of the most valuable skills a business professional can have when negotiating or working with a global team. Having self-awareness and the ability to control emotions, especially in stressful situations, are prime components of emotional intelligence. Emotionally intelligent professionals act empathically when working with a team in which different languages and cultures might affect communication. 

Those with a high degree of emotional intelligence may better sense, for example, how all parties in a negotiation process are feeling about an offered deal. They can often use this knowledge to identify specific elements of the deal that a party is wary of and then propose practical alternatives. They can also recognize and control the emotions they’re experiencing and self-regulate their behaviors. 

6. Adaptive thinking

Due to the ever-changing nature of international business, professionals need to cultivate adaptive thinking skills. These skills enable individuals to consider potential responses to difficult situations. They can take a step back, weigh their options, and decide on the best option for responding to that situation. 

Such talents can help keep potential deals from falling through, avoid high-risk situations, preserve a business’ reputation among its global partners, and more. The ability to think clearly and logically, even in uncertain and changing circumstances, is a major benefit in the international business world. 

7. Motivation and resilience 

Working in international business can be challenging and demanding. Even a successful career in international business can have some setbacks. Professionals need to work long hours, often across different time zones, and schedules are often full and tiring. 

It’s essential for business professionals to remain self-motivated and resilient. The willingness to put in long hours, constantly strive for improvement, and try again even after failure is what can make a professional successful. 

8. Interpersonal influence

Powerful, effective business professionals have interpersonal influence skills. They understand how to motivate and persuade others, whether they’re negotiating a deal or inspiring an employee who is new to global business matters. 

Understanding and developing personal influence requires a keen awareness of one’s personal traits along with the art of persuasion and sales. 

Other skills for successful international business professionals

In addition to the soft skills mentioned, business professionals also benefit from having specific hard skills for conducting international business. This includes having an understanding of financial accounting, knowledge of economic principles, and awareness of taxes and tariffs, which can significantly impact business profits. 

Thunderbird School of Global Management helps business professionals and aspiring business students develop the hard and soft skills needed for international business today and tomorrow. Thunderbird offers several degree programs and certificate programs designed to help future-proof business skills. Find your path and future in international business.


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