Cultural Training or Stereotyping?
December 12, 2010
It is possible that one or more of the following describe you:
- Work in a multinational environment
- Market/sell your products or services in more than one country
- Communicate with an international audience, maybe even just online
- Lead a multinational team
If yes, then you’ve probably had a chance to experience some sort of cultural training as a way of coping with the demands of a ‘multi culti’ job/life? Someone, sometime must have offered you services to help you ‘integrate’ locally? The promise would have been: ‘help you connect and interact better with people from different cultures’….or something similar.
It is hard for me to buy the idea/ promise, that a few hours or days of sitting in a classroom like situation, making notes, doing role plays whilst sipping coffee, can provide you with some insight to crack this diverse world. Worse still, many trainers, in an attempt to pack the training with facts and information, unknowingly stereotype people from individual cultures and pass on their prejudices and judgments to unsuspecting people ( like me). To me, a classroom based cross cultural training session is like learning swimming from a PowerPoint presentation. With due respect to all the wily marketers (look who’s talking) who package and sell cross cultural training workshops as a solution to deal with an increasingly international world, I beg to defer.
The ‘expat’ status that tagged me the last decade in different parts of the world in different geographies, has taught me more valuable lessons in cross cultural communication (both written and spoken) than graduate school. This is not to belittle formal education or cross cultural trainers, but simply to re-look at what exactly is being sold to us in these workshops/training sessions.
The internet has blurred borders and brought people together in ways unimaginable a few decades ago, but the same connectedness has also created a high awareness about differences in cultures/ sub cultures. Speaking purely from my personal experience, after one has read and understood some basic cultural differences, language nuances and local customs (from free yet reliable resources on the Internet), it is the humane qualities such as, tolerance, empathy, and interpersonal skills that really matter. These skills are the essential requirements to thrive or coexist in a new country, culture or multicultural environment. While language, food, habits and customs differ from place to place, human beings in general have the same range of emotions. So, why base one’s interactions at a cultural level, when in fact there is a deep common bond between fellow humans? Why look at the differences and then find a way to bond, when you can in fact integrate at a more basic level – the human level?
Perhaps the need of the hour is training in inter personal skills, body language and mind reading?
While on the subject of cultural integration, I’ve included below, more information about my 4th adopted home, Cologne. In fact, its people from the city council/office who would like me to share this with my compatriots – to attract more people like us :):)
(P.S: We must have created a good impression then?)