Why Storytelling in the Intercultural Context?

storytellingStories are the cornerstone of the Cultural Detective Method, and we have written about them on this blog quite often. Today I am very pleased to share with you a guest blog post by Joanna Sell, storyteller extraordinaire. She will be leading a complimentary webinar for us on 6th December 2018. Register now!

You might be asking why storytelling in intercultural communication? This exact question marked the beginning of my journey towards the storytelling approach. When I was setting the sails, I had no idea where it would bring me. I simply knew that my clients in the business world, my students at the universities, and many people working across cultures desperately wanted golden recipes on how to behave in intercultural contexts. Does that sound familiar to you?

Following the motto, “When in Rome, do as the Romans do,” people wanted to hear do’s and don’ts for communicating and cooperating with the “inhabitants of Rome.” What struck me, mostly, was the fact that they were deeply convinced that such “ready-made recipes” existed or were useful.

On one hand they acknowledged the diversity of their own groups and said: “Well, our group is very diverse in terms of age, gender, professional background, and nationality, and it is clear that our setting is ‘colorful,’ but we are here to hear about ‘Rome and the Romans.'” I asked myself why was it so easy to talk about a mosaic of cultures in their own groups while also asking for do’s and don’ts lists for communicating with “the others.”

Everything changed once we exchanged stories. Suddenly, the beauty of diversity became tangible and the focus moved towards practicing perspective change, self-reflection regarding communication skills, and a clear shift from “autopilot modus” towards curiosity and acceptance of differing thinking patterns.

As an intercultural trainer and coach I was overwhelmed—and I experienced my own personal change, as well. I still provided input on doing business and working in teams in countries of my expertise, and I addressed the challenges and rewards of virtual leadership. However, I began to incorporate the experience and knowledge of the participants into my programs much more. Why? Because the narrative approach and various storytelling methods guided me to get to know my participants better, allowing me to better tailor the content to their needs.

Additionally, thanks to the exchange of stories, they got to know one another from a completely new perspective and were willing to share their experiences in an open manner. A setting of psychological safety and an atmosphere of trust were the most wonderful gifts most of us experienced during time spent together sharing stories. Discussions about establishing trust and designing a team charter took on completely new dynamics. When we talked about action plans at the end of the meeting, participants were much more committed to following through, as well as to risk story sharing in their professional contexts and to apply storytelling methods in their daily lives.

I gathered the list of the reasons that storytelling works so well in the intercultural context, and I welcome your ideas to add to my observations.

  • Storytelling allows discovering cultural roots from multiple perspectives.
  • Storytelling offers insights into complexity of multicultural identities.
  • Storytelling supports zooming in and out, i.e., perspective change.
  • Storytelling adds the emotional layer to the cognitive level.
  • Storytelling serves as means of transmitting cultures.
  • Storytelling deals with new stories of belonging.
  • Storytelling initiates change processes.
  • Storytelling moves hearts.

Study Supports Ecotonos’ Effectiveness

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“This study shows that the use of the Ecotonos: A Simulation for Collaborating Across Cultures supports the development of cultural intelligence (CQ) and an increase in the development of confidence in cross-cultural encounters.

This legitimates the use of Ecotonos in international business education.

Ecotonos may also be effective in preparing students for overseas internships or study abroad programs… and in multinational corporations and universities as a means to improve the CQ of their management and students.”
—Bücker and Korzilius

Since its publication in 1995, Ecotonos: A Simulation for Collaborating Across Cultures has become a classic in the field of intercultural communication competence; it is a go-to resource for corporations, universities and NGOs that require the ability to effectively team across cultures. Two decades of anecdotal evidence strongly support Ecotonos’ usefulness, but it is only recently that management researchers in The Netherlands provided empirical evidence on the simulation’s effectiveness.

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Three of the five generations of Ecotonos; compact Fifth Edition on the right.

Developing cultural intelligence: assessing the effect of the Ecotonos cultural simulation game for international business students,” a study published in The International Journal of Human Resource Management (Vol. 26, No. 15, 1995-2014) by Joost JLE Bücker and Hubert Korzilius, found that Ecotonos supports the development of cultural intelligence (CQ), specifically metacognitive, motivational, and behavioral CQ.

Bücker and Korzilius write, “CQ is defined by Earley and Ang (2003) as a person’s capability to adapt effectively to new cultural contexts. It refers to individual capacities which enable one to interact effectively with others from different cultural backgrounds and in different cultural contexts (Brislin, Worthley, & MacNab, 2006). It is the ability to adapt and adjust to one’s environment, and the effective functioning in situations characterized by cultural diversity.”

The research was designed to test the benefits of using Ecotonos as a training method to develop CQ among business students that participate in an international study program, while the researchers also saw applications for corporations and universities. Simulations and role plays “should provide the most suitable opportunity to train someone’s CQ… ECOTONOS (Saphiere, 1995) was created as an attempt to add additional learning goals to those of existing games such as BAFA BAFA and ALBATROSS, by creating simulations that had more complex options.”

The study of 66 students in Toulouse and Nijmegen consisted of an experiment group that engaged in one round of playing Ecotonos, a control group that did not participate in Ecotonos, and the completion of four questionnaires 3-5 weeks apart by members of both groups:

  1. CQS (Ang et al, 2007)
  2. Cross-cultural Communication Effectiveness (adapted from Hammer, Gudykunst & Wiseman, 1978)
  3. Social Desirability Scales (Kleumper, 2008)
  4. New Self-Efficacy Scale (Chen, Gulley and Eden, 2001)

Bücker and Korzilius note the importance of their study:

“Although it has been claimed that simulation games may give positive outcomes, such as more familiarity with people different from ourselves in terms of gender or ethnicity, such games may also reinforce prejudices. Burgstahler and Doe (2006) claim that ‘In all types of simulations there is a risk of long-lasting unintended negative results’ (p. 9).

An evaluation of an intercultural communications simulation called BAFA BAFA (Shirts, 1973) found evidence of a positive change in enthusiasm for learning, an intended result, and an increased ethnocentrism, an unintended result (Bruschke, Gartner, & Seiter, 1993). The simulated experience triggered negative and reactionary attitudes toward other cultures, and did not allow for more positive changes that might come from extended interaction across cultures (Bruschke et al., 1993).

The two simulation games of Bafa Bafa and Ecotonos are different. Whereas in the Bafa Bafa game participants are invited to simulate explicit stated cultural behavior, in the Ecotonos game participants have more freedom to create their own culture. This different way of prescribing behavior in the two games may have implications for the degree of prejudice after the simulation.”

The researchers found that “Ecotonos increases the ability to reflect on cross-cultural interactions, and stimulates interest in intercultural behavior and practicing cross-cultural relevant behavior.”

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A concern that came out of the study is that researchers found “there is more understanding and comfort in student interactions, but there is not more progress in the joint project result. For undergraduate business students, feeling comfortable in intercultural situations and becoming interested in other students’ cultural backgrounds is already a great win; it stimulates intercultural learning by opening up students’ mindsets in the international class. For more mature graduate students, extra strategic learning should be expected during the simulation game, in terms of effectiveness of their cross-cultural behavior and effectuating certain predefined targets in their communication. This might be developed by stimulating the competitive side of the role of the participants in the simulation game.”

I would posit that playing Ecotonos multiple times will enable students to practice and improve their collaborative abilities; this is, after all, how the game is designed to be used. A different task or case study can be used each time the game is played, and different rule cards as well, making the play unique each time.

A second way for participants to improve their collaboration skills is for facilitators to urge them to choose one behavior they would like to demonstrate during the simulation. Participants should focus on that. During game play, when collaboration all too frequently breaks down, facilitators can interrupt play to remind players to practice the skill they have previously chosen. Both of these interventions are described in the Ecotonos Manual, 5th Edition, 2016.

I would like to thank both researchers for this work, and express my hope that they will continue with further studies on this topic.

If you haven’t yet conducted Ecotonos with your students, trainees or learners, what are you waiting for? Purchase your copy today. If you have an older copy, you may want to update; the fifth edition has explanations of a whole lot of how-to and underlying theory that you may be missing from earlier versions.

Bridging Cultures Online Learning Event: Register Now!

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How do you translate knowledge of cultural differences into practice? What should you actually do differently to communicate better, and how do you ensure that what you are doing is effective?

  • Identify “bridge builders” and “bridge blockers” to your success
  • Learn techniques for in-the-moment bridging of differences to ensure that conversations spiral upwards instead of downwards
  • Develop strategies to both prepare for and repair cross-cultural relationships
  • Develop high impact, creative resolutions that take into consideration interpersonal, intercultural, and situational factors

During the webinar we will use Cultural Detective Bridging Cultures. This package is a little different than many in our series: rather than focusing on a specific culture, this package includes exercises and processes to help you navigate the differences you face. It is all about translating cultural savvy into action.

Cultural Detective Bridging Cultures cover

As you probably know, the Cultural Detective Series develops three core intercultural capacities: Subjective Culture, Cultural Literacy, and Cultural Bridging. Every packet in our series develops all three of these capacities; culture-specific packages have a particular focus on Cultural Literacy, while CD Self Discovery and CD Bridging Cultures focus more in-depth on the other two target capacities.

The Cultural Detective Bridging Cultures package is for anyone wanting to move from awareness to action, and it makes a great complement to any Cultural Detective culture-specific package. Join the webinar and learn more about the package and how to use its unique activities and exercises to enhance your own skills and/or your training program.

WHO

Facilitator for this event will be Kate Berardo, co-author of Cultural Detective® Self Discovery and Cultural Detective® Bridging Cultures. She provides consulting, training, and coaching to help individuals be effective global leaders and organizations to navigate complex cultural challenges. Kate has developed and delivered learning events in more than eighteen countries, with individuals from over fifty nations, using both online and traditional facilitation tools. Her work has been featured in media worldwide, most recently on CNN’s Business Traveller and the Dubai daily Gulf News.

Kate holds a distinguished Master’s in Intercultural Communication from the University of Bedfordshire, UK, and is a summa cum laude graduate of Northwestern University in the USA. She is certified in the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator®. With George Simons and Simma Lieberman, Kate authored Putting Diversity to Work, a training guide for managers to leverage diversity in the workplace. Raised in California, she has also lived in Japan, Spain, France, England, and Denmark. Her work and travel to over forty countries have given her a deep understanding of the intricacies of bridging boundaries and barriers.

WHEN
Monday, June 13, 2016 from 10:00 AM to 11:30 AM (MDT)
Register now to secure your place! 

Announcing the Fifth Edition of Ecotonos: Build Cross-Cultural Teams!

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Ecotonos: A Simulation for Collaborating Across Cultures is a classic in the intercultural field. It simulates teaming across cultural differences, and thus helps learners practice and refine cross-cultural collaboration skills. It can be played multiple times for developmental learning, since there is no “trick” to the game. Play and debrief require a minimum of 100 minutes, but is so rich that quite a few professors refer back to and pull learning from the Ecotonos experience throughout the entire semester of a course.

First published in 1992, Ecotonos is now in its fifth edition!

I want to thank—immensely—Kathryn Stillings, who headed up the most recent reprinting: from finding sources for the plastic carrying case and the metal culture buttons, to proofreading and managing the printing, and hardest of all, assembling the finished product and getting it shipped off to our fulfillment center. And she claims to have had fun doing it!

The photos below prove that when you purchase Ecotonos you are getting hand-assembled, artisanal quality goods! 😉 Click on any image to view it larger or see a slideshow. Of course, Kathryn took the pictures, so you sadly don’t see her in any of these.

If you don’t use Ecotonos in your classes or trainings, you are missing out on an invaluable tool for developing cross-cultural teaming competence. The game can be reused for years and years; order yours today!

Terrific Video Clip on “Funny” Names Across Cultures

The clip below is both very funny and a reminder for some of what it feels like to be on the other end of having a “funny name.” It comes from a hugely popular British TV comedy sketch series of the late 1990s —“Goodness Gracious Me”—in which almost the entire cast were British Asians (or “Hounslow Punjabis, to be precise,” as one of the cast members once said). The running gags were about the Asian migrant experience. Many thanks to David Patterson for bringing this clip to our attention.

I share it with you today, Christmas Eve for those of us who celebrate it, in the hopes that it might add some humor to your day, as well as serve as an enjoyable (yet insightful) clip to share with those uncles, cousins or other family members who, despite our love and affection for them, drive us crazy with their stereotypical (racist?) comments during family get-togethers.

This clip is a terrific complement to the video interview I conducted with Dr. Emmanuel Ngomsi on names. Below are the links to those two posts:

“Most Multicultural Teams are Dominated by One Cultural Group”

Or so claims Jeanne Brett in a recent Harvard Business Review blog post. I will agree that most of the multicultural teams I’ve worked with over the past 28 years have been dominated by a sub-group of members. My guess is that’s the same for most teams, no matter the visible diversity of their composition.

This idea caught my attention, and I also really liked that rather than the usual analogy of talking about multicultural teams as symphony orchestras or likening them to herding cats, Jeanne relates multicultural teams to fusion cuisine. And who doesn’t like fusion cuisine? Way to sell multiculturalism!

“It turns out that fusion teams often … break a large team into smaller subgroups, encourage informal conversations, and thereby get input from previously quiet team members. Eventually, the subparts have to be integrated back into a whole; this turns out to be less of a problem than you’d think. In the teams we studied, the trust and respect generated within the subgroups made it reasonably easy to facilitate collaboration in the larger group.”

Another of Jeanne’s points very much echoes what the six expert, globally dispersed authors of Cultural Detective Global Teamwork have to say. Many of you know what a dynamite package that is and, if you don’t, please be sure to check it out! To quote Jeanne’s post:

“We’ve come across team leaders who achieve the same result (getting the most out of all cultural subgroups) by carefully establishing team norms at the start of a project. For example, we know of one manager who was leading an English-language software-development project; English was not his first language. In fact, his English was strongly accented. When he met with the team for the first time, he told them, ‘You’ve probably noticed I have an accent. If I could get rid of it, I’d be happy to do so, but since I cannot, we’re going to have to communicate … regardless of my accent or for that matter yours. If you do not understand me, or one another, whether it’s because of accent or anything else, we need to communicate until we do understand.'”

What do you think? In what ways are multicultural teams like fusion cuisine? What are some of your tried-and-true best practices for multicultural teamwork?