Rule No. 1: Don't Diss The Locals

WHO SHOULD GET THAT PLUM foreign assignment? A lot of companies tap employees who are aces at technical matters or management. However, a new study finds other skills more important for an American to be successful overseas.

Horror stories abound, according to Prudential Relocation Intercultural Services, which did the study. There was the company that sent an evangelical Christian to Saudi Arabia. He offended locals by setting up a Bible group and got booted out of the country. A U.S. oil outfit transferred an executive to Peru, where he told jokes deriding the natives' industriousness and excluded them from his parties. His employees griped to the government, which canceled the company's oil concession.

Prudential Relocation, an arm of Prudential Insurance, asked 72 personnel managers working at multinationals to name the best trait for overseas success. Nearly 35% said cultural adaptability: patience, flexibility, and tolerance for others' beliefs. Only 22% of them listed technical and management skills.