Clients want to hire experts. Are you an expert? I hope not! At least, not in the sense many of us traditionally think of “experts.”
Cross-cultural service providers need to be deeply competent in a variety of disciplines: intercultural communication, learning theory, the context of the organization or community, the people involved, etc. However, even though clients frequently push us into the role of “the expert with the answers,” assuming that role tends to be the wrong approach to building intercultural competence. That’s probably why I find the video below so amusing, and why Cultural Detective Facilitator Certifications focus on facilitation competence rather than information delivery.
Sure, cross-cultural effectiveness may require that we know how to tie a sari correctly, bow appropriately, or kiss the expected number of times. And we need to know the business at hand, e.g., the requirements of virtual teaming or methods of procurement—the specifics of what we’re involved in. It may require that we know how to draw red lines, as in the video. These things require information—a positivist approach. There may be a single “right” answer.
Most often, a client tells an expert what he wants, and then hopes the expert will simply “make it happen.” No need for the client to get overly involved; just leave it up to the expert. When a client (or student) asks an expert a question, they want a clear, specific answer—not “it depends.” Yet, in cross-cultural situations, so much does depend. “Correct” answers are contextual: how well do you know someone, are you meeting them socially or professionally, what country and region are you in, what social strata? Do you want to build market share or gain return on investment? Are you new to a market or have you been there for decades? What’s your reputation? A relativist approach allows for cultural and contextual differences—key to effectiveness and appropriateness.
While both positivism and relativism have their place in developing cross-cultural competence, the real change-maker is in a constructivist approach. The Japanese may generally do something a certain way, but that doesn’t mean an expat, immigrant, or visitor should or must do it that way. People need to find their way of being successful in a new environment—a way that works for them personally. True intercultural effectiveness requires client engagement, along with expert guidance.
Take my friend Doug. He is US American, and he has a loud and infectious laugh that he regularly engages in with a wide-open mouth and a slap on his leg. Most definitely not common Japanese practice, right? So, when he goes to Japan, do you take a positivist approach, and teach him a Japanese-style laugh? Will that be the key to his success in Japan? Do you compare Japanese laughter to US American laughter, or his friends’ laughter to his? In Doug’s case, when he moved to Japan he didn’t really adjust his laughter at all. His laugh is a core part of who he is, and most Japanese colleagues and friends love him for it. Sure, they may have been surprised at first. But his laugh is genuine, it’s him, and they understand that. Doug was highly successful in Japan, perhaps despite his loud laugh, but more probably, in part, because of it. He adapted his style in other ways.
Such is the constructivist nature of intercultural competence. Together, we co-construe, we “construct” our shared experience, and through that, we make sense of our relationships. Cultural Detective takes a constructivist approach. Yes, the CD Method contains elements of positivism (Values Lenses) and relativism (Worksheets), too, but they are used with the goal of learning about ourselves and others, and creating bridges that will enable each of us, and our organizations and communities, to be our best.
“The wise man doesn’t give the right answers,
he poses the right questions.”
French Anthropologist, 1908-2009
In dealing with a client that wants an “expert,” the clue to remember is what kind of expert you are. Effective intercultural facilitation is difficult, and we as facilitators do not have the “answers.” The “answers” reside in the client, the team members, community members, or key stakeholders. Our job is to bring the answers out, help make them known, help refine them so they are real and workable, and so that they enable intercultural effectiveness. This requires a high level of expertise: to help the client look inward and develop the answers themselves, when they are looking for a “magic” solution from an outside expert.
Learning opportunities to acquire good, effective intercultural facilitation skills are often hard to find. We are pleased to offer workshops that will help you gain and improve facilitation skills useful in intercultural contexts. Our Cultural Detective Facilitation Certification workshops are quite popular with both new and experienced facilitators, who always learn more than they expected. Three opportunities are scheduled this year:
- A pre-conference of the SIETAR Europa Congress in Valencia, Spain,
- As part of the Summer Institute of the International Educators’ Training Program (IETP) at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario, Canada,
- And at the Summer Institute for Intercultural Communication (SIIC) in Portland, Oregon, USA. Click on any of the links above for more information or to register.
In addition, Daniel Yalowitz and I are offering a course at SIIC, “Gaining Gaming Competence: The Meaning Is in the Debriefing.” This experiential workshop focuses on current best practices and theories for creating, facilitating, and debriefing meaningful intercultural games, activities, and simulations. This is an excellent opportunity to gain a wealth of information in a short period of time. More information can be found here: http://www.intercultural.org/11.php.
Please join us for one of these upcoming events, to hone your intercultural facilitation skills to an “expert” level! In this way we can accomplish our shared goals of spreading intercultural competence to build understanding, collaboration, equity and justice in our world.