East meets West | An intercultural competence activity

I’ve been running a lot of workshops on intercultural competence lately with a focus on cross-cultural communication skills in a business context. Here’s an engaging little activity that can be used to lead in to the differences in cultural orientations underpinning behaviours or as the basis for a meatier discussion on cultural differences and their impact on business interactions.

The activity uses the simple but startlingly canny imagery created by Yang Liu for her infographic book, East Meets West. Through visuals like the following one on expressing opinions, Liu explores cultural differences between China, where she’s from and Germany, where she lives.

Preparation 

If you haven’t taught cross-cultural topics before, you may want to read up on Geert Hofstede and his work on how differences in values drive behaviours in a cultural context and internalize some of his classic dimensions about power distance and time. Another expert, Fons Trompenaars, also from the Netherlands is worth looking up for his dichotomies – universalistic vs. particularistic etc.

Materials 

Unfortunately, Liu’s book isn’t available in India. I wish it was because I would cut it up and laminate it the way I’ve dismembered (but lovingly and purposefully) Istvan Banyai’s visual books. This site has quite a few images from the book and you don’t really need so many.

This is a group activity and you’ll need enough copies of each image for each group. Cut up each image so the German visual is separated from its Chinese partner. Shuffle the images and clip them together to create a set.

I don’t use the images that deal with the ‘visible part of the cultural iceberg’ like differences in food but you can choose which images you’d like to use based on the discussion you want to facilitate.

Cross-culture 1

Instructions 

  • Divide Ss into groups of three or four.
  • Lead into the activity by demonstrating how a pair of images belong together, explaining that one represents Germany while the other one is China.

Step 1: Match the images 

  • Ask Ss to work with their group to match the images.
  • Ask early finishers to go around the room and compare their pairs with others.

Step 2: What do the images represent? 

  • Ask groups to work together to identify what behaviour or communication trait each pair is referring to e.g., how people express opinions or how people perceive time, and what the actual difference is e.g, Germans tend to be very direct whereas the Chinese are more indirect.
  • Ask each group to compare their understanding with another group before opening up to a whole class discussion.

Step 3: How do these relate to business interactions? 

  • Now assign images to each group and ask them to consider the impact of this cultural difference in business interactions. For example, in a meeting where each side is sharing its perspective on a proposal, how might they view each other?
  • Take whole class feedback.

Step 4: Can you relate these cultural orientations to your own cultures? 

  • Ask Ss to consider which cultural orientation their own culture might be closer to. For example, does India have a fixed notion of time as in Germany or is it more fluid as in China?

Step 5: Wrap-up

  • Ask Ss if they they think all Germans are extremely direct when expressing opinions or whether all Chinese are indirect. Caution Ss about the danger of stereotyping and the limits of generalizations in intercultural competence.

Cross-culture 2