Here is the first in a series of articles on how to be an excellent intercultural trainer. Cathy has worked in the field of intercultural training for over ten years collaborating with numerous global corporate and public sector organisations. As well as delivering training herself, Cathy has worked closely with client decision makers to establish training needs and has also hired and observed many, many intercultural trainers worldwide.
Part 1 – Have a Healthy Relationship with the Theory
- Know your stuff – it goes without saying that to be an expert in your field you need to have a solid understanding of the academic research and literature. Know the value and as well as the limitations of the models. Then you can make your own call as to if or when you use these models. Long gone are the days when intercultural training could be based purely on personal experience and anecdote but, if like many trainers, you are not convinced by the universal validity of the well known dimensional models, explore more recent research and bring in models from other disciplines if and where appropriate.
- Use the theory wisely and sparingly – remember that this might be all new for your clients so a visual representation of a model that seems tired and clichéd to you could be a helpful eye-opener to participants in your training room. No model has all the answers and many may be flawed but they can still act as a useful springboard for discussion and debate.
- Be eclectic – never rely on one lone model or theorist but take a pragmatic approach and bring in what works for you and what may help your client from a range of theories, models and disciplines – without overwhelming them with detail.
- Be careful of jargon – we need to speak our clients’ language so be mindful of using too much intercultural terminology. Using expressions such as high context, specific versus diffuse or linear active risks confusing your participants and cost you valuable time in defining these complex terms and concepts.
- Make it relevant and practical – most clients want the ‘so what?’ or ‘the what’s in it for me?’ factors and so avoid giving lengthy theoretical explanations. Instead, introduce appropriate examples that bring the models to life.
- Know the limitations – Be prepared to show both sides of the coin by highlighting the criticisms of any theory you use as well as offering the counter-arguments. Managing antithesis effectively is one sign of an excellent intercultural trainer.
- Keep learning – Don’t rest on your laurels and think that because you know about Hall, Hofstede and Trompenaars you are an expert. We all know that intercultural interactions are rarely as straightforward as person from culture A interacting with person from culture B and so more recent, more complex models and theories might serve you and your clients better.
In a nutshell
Treat your relationship with intercultural theory as you would any other close relationship. Be aware of its weaknesses but always be ready to defend it when it’s under attack. Don’t become over-dependent and don’t turn your back on them completely either. Keep reading, be active on social media, attend events when you can and share ideas with other intercultural trainers. Finally, be prepared to experiment with new theories and approaches and challenge them yourself.