Intercultural Training: Rethinking the Do’s and Dont’s

Intercultural training seems to be more popular than ever. But there is more than one way to define intercultural training.

From my perspective, there are two main areas of intercultural training. The one I see the most, and the one most people seem to ask for, is training about how to act and how not to act in a given country. Simply put, people want a list of “Do”s and “Don’t”s.

For example:
“Should I give my host a present in Iran?” or
“Do they kiss or shake hands when they meet in Mozambique?”

This sort of advice can be useful if you are in a hurry and you want to be aware of the tricky situations. But, does it really help you to do business in the country? And, do you need a list for every country?
Think for a moment of your own culture. Can you really tell someone how they should act when they come to your country? Do all of the people in your country act the same, react the same, talk, walk or dress the same? Of course they don’t.

Looking at Intercultural Training a Different Way

So, yes, lists of how to behave can help you if you are in a hurry and that is all you have. But, there must be more to intercultural training.

The second type of intercultural training, and the one that I prefer, is about intercultural awareness. Using models such as Trompenaars Hampden-Turner’s seven dimensions of culture or Hofstede’s cultural dimensions theory, you can learn how to interpret behavior and adapt your own behavior accordingly.

Once you know what to look for, you can become better at observing a culture and working out why they behave the way they do. You can then do a much better job of working out what you should do and why you should do it.

One advantage of looking at the dimensions of culture is that you can apply these to any culture. You are no longer dependent on having a list for a specific country, so you can then apply the dimensions to any culture.

Getting Results in Business

Additionally, once you understand more about why people act a certain way, you can start to think about how you should act when performing different tasks, e.g. presenting your product, selling your service, negotiating or arguing.

For example, a list of intercultural tips might tell you that in a certain culture people come to meetings in twos or threes but never alone. But, when you look at why they do this, it might be because they value communitarianism over individualism. This information can really help you to do business with these people.

So, when you are looking for intercultural training, remember to look for intercultural awareness. This will help you understand why people act in certain ways which will let you make your own decisions about how you should act. Let us know in the comments section below about your experiences.