Intercultural Business Competences: Why knowledge is not enough – by Dr. Ursula Brinkmann

The Golden Guilty Gift

Gift-giving is an art in every culture, but when it comes to gift-giving in international business, it turns into fine art. In some cultures, people exchange presents at the start of a business relationship, while in others only to appreciate work done well. Telling gifts from bribes is a faculty all by itself – as some Dutch negotiators learned the hard way.

What does the pen mean?

What does the pen mean?

They arrived in Seoul for negotiations with a Korean supplier. After the proper exchange of cards, the Koreans handed to them a set of silver pens. Perhaps it was jetlag, perhaps a headache, but the Dutch felt uncomfortable and refused, ever so politely. The next day, the Koreans arrived with golden pens.

Clearly, cultural perspectives collided: The Dutch team’s fear of corruption versus the Korean team’s mistaking a polite refusal for a call for better gifts. Ironically, what the Dutch team did know about Korean culture – sensitivity to loss of face – only worsened the misunderstanding as their delicate denial failed to alert the Koreans that gifts were not the start of a beautiful friendship.

Cultural knowledge is important, but once we start interacting, our success depends on many other factors. Culturally sensitive negotiators would have known that pens are neutral in Korea. They would have also brought a gift, carefully chosen to respect status differences and be meaningful to the entire Korean delegation. They would use the exchange of gifts as an opportunity to get to know each other, to express good intentions, and to build a buffer for later, when people need to forgive the inevitable blunders that happen across borders.

The most intelligent gift we ever received was from two Korean HR managers: Two small wooden ducks, male and female. Arranging the figures on our desk, they explained that if all is well between husband and wife, the ducks are turned towards each other near the entrance door; away from each other if all is not well. The ducks only had symbolic value, standing for fertility in Korean culture, which is why they are important gifts in marital ceremonies. Over to us to show how well we knew Korean customs!

What makes us interculturally effective is both what we know about each other, and how we use our knowledge. This integration of knowledge and competences is central to our Intercultural Readiness Approach.

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Trainer Resources – 6 Ice Breaker Exercises for Intercultural Trainers

Here are 6 high energy ice breaker training exercises that will work well for intercultural facilitators wishing to get a group to interact together, explore their communication styles and to promote the process of self-refection.

They are mostly light on equipment and quick to set up (the last one requires a little more effort the first time you prepare it.)

Please feel free to try them out and tell us how you get on…

  1. Helium Stick

Thanks to The Works Manager for making and showing the film.

Equipment – A tent pole or flip chart sheet rolled up diagonally for maximum length.

Ice Breaker Training Exercises

Ice Breaker Training Exercises

  1. The Ball Game

Thanks to Rhema Resource Centre for filming and showing the film.

Equipment – Juggling balls, Stopwatch.

  1. Potato Icebreaker

Thanks to Anna Sabramowicz for the demonstration and talking us through the debrief.

Equipment – Potatoes and strong drinking straws.

Originator; Ken Bellemare ‪

  1. Blindfold Team Pen

Equipment – Blindfolds, Marker Pen, Duct Tape

Sample instruction – Draw “Unity + a Smiley”

  1. The Coin Game

Thanks to Rob Jackson at Magnovo for the talk through.

Equipment – Handful of coins handed out – one to each participant.

  1. Human Bingo / Diversity Bingo / Get to know you Bingo

Thanks to Paul Holdsworth – English for Asia for making and showing the film.

Equipment – 1 A4 sheet per participant with 4 X 4 box table containing questions.

Debrief – Here the facilitator can illicit observations, thoughts and feelings from the participants.

Fun – Who enjoyed the exercise? What was enjoyable? What appealed to you most? Were there any surprises? Who did NOT enjoy it? What were the negative aspects of this game for you?

Process – What was this exercise about? What do you think the inventor was trying to achieve? How did you do it? What was the biggest obstacle? How did you overcome the biggest obstacle? What helped you to succeed? What released the energy for you.

Motivation – What did you feel at the beginning? What was the low point of the exercise for you? Do you feel you have achieved something? Would you like to do this again? Do you know anyone who would like to do this exercise? And Why?

Reflection – People approach this task in different ways – Why do you think you did it the way that you did it? Did other participants do it a different way? Why did they do it that way? What part did diversity / culture play in your different approaches?

We wish you well in trying out these icebreakers. Good luck and do feel free to share your results and stories.