Is your team ready for intercultural dialogue?

How to facilitate opportunities for dialogue in a culturally diverse team? Making everyone’s voice in your team heard and understood by facilitating team building, communication, and open dialogue! This blog provides three different practical methods to facilitate opportunities for dialogue in a culturally diverse team. It also will give insights in cultural peculiarities based on the Lewis model that will impact the dialogue. The combination of these practical methods and the Lewis model will provide your culturally diverse team a flying start into becoming a dream team!

Three practical methods to facilitate opportunities for dialogue
The first part of this blog will provide you with three practical ways to facilitate dialogue. Each of these three ways focusses on a different aspect of connection: the familiar, the creation, and the joint interest. Proven ways to connect new groups into harmonious and productive dream teams.

1.    Experiential learning. Get to know your host country. Build traditions together with your team. Highlight cultural aspects of the host country and invite everyone to talk about their cultural backgrounds.

2.    Art & music. Encourage people to provoke expression using cultural symbols or instruments. Create something meaningful together. This opens dialogue and boosts confidence. Especially if there is a language gap, art will speak and be understood.

3.    Skills & interests. Make a bulletin board for skills and interests. This way people can find each other based on a shared skill or interest. This can be anything from cooking to jogging to graphic design. Any activity that is not work related.

If you look at these three practical ways to start dialogue, it’s also important to realise how ‘active’ your team members are when it comes to communicating. A great way to provide insights in cultural communication preferences is the Lewis model, which I will cover next in this blog.

How active is your culture?
As mentioned, to implement this practical advice, it is important to know more about different cultures and their peculiarities. According to Richard Lewis there are three big groups when it comes to communicating: linear-active, multi-active and reactive. Lewis discussed his model in detail in his publication “When cultures collide“. In this publication he introduces a culture typology that sorts countries by using criteria based on for example work ethics and communication preferences. Each of these three groups is has features that create unique cultural groups. Before I explain more about the groups, I will make them visible:

In this space for dialogue, there are cultural differences between the three groups. Before I get into detail on those differences, keep in mind that not every Brazilian is “always showing a lot of emotions” and not every German, is “always on time etcetera. Be aware of stereotyping! The Lewis model basically helps understand that there is a variety of responses to situations.

Now let’s look at details of these three groups. I will start with linear-active countries, since I am Dutch, I am mostly drawn to this by nature and the specifics of this group fit for example my work ethics and the way I communicate. See Dutchies, including myself, love planning and scheduling! Making to-do lists, step by step plans, following IKEA manuals and everything else that is structured basically. We are also known to be open and direct in our communication. Other characteristics are that us linear-active people do one thing at the time, we confront with logic, not with emotion. We separate social activities from professional related activities (our colleagues are our colleagues, not our friends) and we value truth before diplomacy.

My Arab husband on the other hand cares more about peoples’ feelings and is less direct, he does multiple things at the time, has no preference for to-do lists or very tight schedules like I do. He also talks a lot more than I do. All characteristics of the multi-active cultures. They are also known to be more emotional, for example in confrontation, but also in general: feelings come before facts. This results in an interlacing of social and professional and in more flexible versions of the truth than the linear-active group would use.

The third group, the reactive cultures, are the most introverted. They listen more than they speak, are in general more respectful and polite than the other two groups. They also have more patience, and they use their connections to connect professional and social life. They value diplomacy over truth, and they don’t confront or show their feelings. If I read and interpret this description it perfectly fits the way the Asian teacher in my kid’s daycare talks about for example my son’s behaviour throughout the day. She’s very calm, only replies to my questions, and does not start to call on bad behaviour unless explicitly asked. A world of difference with the other teacher, who’s from Africa, the conversations start the second she sees me, telling me all about the ups and downs of my son’s day. Both approaches are based on the culturally determined communication preferences of both Asian and African according to Lewis.

Personally, I love the mix! It shines light on all possible angles, from the personal, to the rational, to the extrovert to the professional, each aspect of communication preferences touches a different angle. All these angles together make a culturally diverse team a strong team! If you think however that your team could use some help implementing cross cultural awareness, contact me for a free of charge discovery call!

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