Listen to the beat | An intercultural jolt

6845838363_9b000ca3f2_oA jolt is an engaging learning activity that lasts for a brief period of time and illustrates one or more important learning points …  A typical jolt does not teach a skill. Instead, it helps you experience an important principle in action and provides you an “aha” moment … They capture your attention by startling you … Thiagi.

This quick jolt is inspired by a YouTube clip that Dr. Broady posted yesterday over on her blog.


Access to YouTube to play this clip – Ghanian funeral dance, speakers.


  • Don’t tell Ss the title of this clip. Tell them that you are going to play some music and they should think about where this might be taking place in terms of the country or region as well the event or venue. They should try to imagine what people at this event might be doing while listening to this music and what sort of people they might be.
  • Play only the audio – doing whatever you need to (depending on the device) to block the video.
  • Ask Ss to share their ideas in pairs. Take whole class feedback.
  • Now play the clip again, allowing Ss to see the video.
  • Ask Ss to work with their partner to discuss how close or far their guesses were.


  • Use open-ended questions to facilitate a discussion and elicit the following learning points:
    • In cross-cultural interactions, when we jump to conclusions, based on our own frames of reference, without taking the time to observe, we may make decisions or base interactions on incorrect perceptions and information.
    • And when we jump to conclusions and receive new information through this flawed lens, we may become overly judgemental about cultural differences.
  • Ask Ss to relate these points back to the cross-cultural interactions they have at work.

Image attribution: Flickr | Jolt Cola by Brent Moore | CC BY-NC 2.0


Whatsapped surveys | A structured sharing activity

Everyone and their uncle seem to be on Whatsapp these days and I’ve been attempting to use it for activities.  One of the advantages of Whatsapp is that it sends and loads images really quickly, even on networks with poor connectivity. Here’s a warmer/speaking activity using images shared on Whatsapp.

HBR survey


You will need survey results like this one from the Harvard Business Review. Your Ss will need smartphones. Onscreen timer.


You will need to take a picture of survey results with your phone. I prefer to use the Harvard Business Review’s HBR Survey which is a regular feature in their print edition but you could use any survey from a newspaper or magazine. You’ll need to have created a Whataspp group for your class. But, you might not have to because I find Ss usually create their own groups so could just send the image to one person and have them share it with the Whatsapp group.


  • Share the image of the survey results in the class Whatsapp group.
  • Pre-teach any blocking words (or don’t depending on which school of thought you belong to).
  • Ask Ss to individually make predictions about the results for the same parameters in their own class e.g., what percentage of their peers would strongly agree with the statement “I would prefer to be told bluntly if I’ve done poor work”.  Ask them to record these predictions in their notebooks.
  • Bring up the onscreen timer and set the countdown timer based on how many Ss you have.
  • Ask Ss to poll their peers and find out their response to this survey question. Have them record these responses as a tally under agree, disagree etc.
  • If someone says “strongly agree” or “strongly disagree”, they should find out why.
  • Call time and divide Ss into small groups. Ask them to analyse the results and discuss the reasons shared by their peers.
  • Debrief the activity by eliciting reasons for differing responses. Draw out the cultural dimension and how it might affect the way people would want to receive feedback and criticism.

Speak up | A technique for immediate feedback

I’ve been away in Bangalore teaching a short course for a team of software professionals. One of the areas I needed to focus on was encouraging these Ss to speak up in meetings. Their reluctance to say anything at all during conference calls was leading to serious issues with their clients. This was partly due to inadequate language for expressing different meeting functions for some Ss but for most it was down to cultural reasons. Indian professionals tend not to express their opinions as openly as perhaps their American counterparts. They are particularly hesitant or inhibited when people at a higher career level, key stakeholders or clients are involved; even more so when the topic of discussion involves something negative or unpleasant such as the inability to meet a deadline or a mistake that has cascading consequences.

This particular group represented an extreme because they would simply refuse to speak on conference calls that involved their American clients to the extent that on one such occasion, the client complained to the team’s manager that no one from the team bothered to attend a critical meeting despite the fact that there were five people from the Bangalore office logged in – they were there but as quiet as a mouse.

I used two techniques to encourage Ss to participate more actively and make their voices heard. The first I adapted from a book on Leadership Games which I’ll share soon.  The second was my attempt to put into use some maths puzzle blocks which I received at a recent TEDx Gateway event as a part of a promo by a new international school. It was something I did on the spur but worked out quite well.

The objective of using these blocks to give feedback is to make sure Ss are not just sitting back and listening to others and essentially wasting opportunities for practice during a meeting simulation – but compel them into participating as well as refine their manner of contributing to the discussion. I had two classes and I tried this technique with both. It worked really well with the smaller group of seven but was less effective with my larger batch of 13.

Immediate feedback


  • Blocks in different shapes and colours.


  • Write up a key on the whiteboard preferably using the same WB marker colours as the blocks themselves.
  • Explain the key to the SS and what they should do if they receive a particular block during the meeting simulation.
  • Start the meeting simulation.
  • Observe participation and dole out blocks according to the key. Make notes on how Ss are able to increase their level of participation or enhance their clarity of speech.
  • Take back blocks when Ss increase or decrease their level of participation.
  • At the end of the meeting simulation, after you’ve facilitated content feedback, ask Ss to recall the blocks they received and self-evaluate their speaking skills during the simulation – noting down feedback against little drawings of the blocks in their notebooks. Ask them to share this feedback in pairs or small groups.
  • The feedback against the yellow and red blocks can become things to work on for the next lesson.

Your response | An intercultural competence activity

Business conversation

One of my favourite resources on activities for exploring intercultural skills is 52 Activities for Improving Cross-cultural Communication by Donna M. Stringer and Patricia A. Cassiday.  Here’s a tweaked version of this activity that I used in a recent program for a global pharmaceutical firm to get Ss to think about different styles of communication and the cultural orientations that may underpin them.


Write out the four scenarios on four separate bits of flipchart. The authors suggested four thought-provoking ones that would generate a lot of discussion. I changed a couple to make them more relevant for my Ss. You can choose any communication scenario which requires Ss to think of an appropriate response where the response may vary based on personality and culture, eliciting a range of output.

Scenario 1: 

One of your colleagues harshly criticizes all of your ideas and suggestions in team meetings. You are currently attending a meeting and you have just shared a recommendation. You are particularly proud of this idea because you put a lot of thought into it. However, your colleague immediately shoots it down. How will you respond?

Scenario 2: 

You are asked to make a 45 minute presentation to senior leadership on an important initiative. The morning of the presentation, your colleague tells you that the plan has changed and you now only have 10 minutes to present. You are irritated by this change. How will you respond?

Scenario 3: 

One of your colleagues likes to pop in to your cubicle at various times during the day, perching himself on your desk, going through your things and chatting about non-work related issues. You are currently on a very critical project and your colleague has just come into your cubicle and said hello. How will you respond?

Scenario 4: 

You overhear one of your team members who reports into you praising you to another manager. The compliments seem over the top and make you uncomfortable. You are attending a networking event where you are in a conversation with your senior manager when your team member joins the conversation and praises you excessively. How will you respond?

Stick the flipcharts around the classroom and place some post-its near each.


2 flipcharts cut into halves so you have four pieces; WB markers (preferably in four different colours); post-its; A brief description of the five communication styles either provided on a slide that you can project or on pieces of paper.

Direct: You are brief and linear while communicating. You get to the point as quickly as possible and confront conflict situations explicitly. You believe issues should be addressed openly and face-to-face to reach a quick resolution.

Indirect: You try to step around conflict and tense situations in order to avoid direct confrontations. You like to minimize the appearance of conflict and criticism so that the people involved can ‘save face’.

Circular: You provide many examples or narrate a story or convey a lot of information in an effort to help the other person come to his or her own conclusion about your intention, need or request.

Being-oriented*: You prioritize building personal relationships and see a person’s ideas as closely connected to their identity. Therefore, you are careful about the way you convey criticism or negative messages because you don’t want to harm the relationship.

Doing-oriented*: You prioritize engaging critically with ideas and feel that passionate discussion shows your commitment to the people involved. You feel that candid debates that lead to quick resolutions can in fact strengthen relationships.

*Called person-centred and idea-centred in the original activity. 


  • Step 1: Ask Ss to go around the room, reading the scenarios, writing their responses on the post-its, sticking them around the flipchart, and then moving to the next one. I was insistent that they write what they would actually ‘say’, rather than ‘do’ which is a bit different than the instructions in the original activity.
  • Step 2: Ask Ss to stand next to any of the scenarios. You can even out the numbers if everyone’s clumped around one or two scenarios. Ask Ss to work with their groups, read the responses and categorize similar ones. Debrief this stage by asking groups what was the most common type of response and which one was an outlier.
  • Step 3: Distribute or display communication styles. Ask Ss to decide which of their responses fit each category. Have them write the communication styles on post-its and group the responses around them. If they’re not sure about the category of any of the responses, they can put it to one side to revisit later. Multiple styles may characterize a single response.
  • Step 4: Have Ss move around to other groups and read the responses and discuss whether they agree with the responses. An an optional discussion, you could ask Ss to select the response they think was particularly appropriate.
  • Step 5: Ask Ss to work in pairs or small groups to consider the cultural orientations that might be driving some of these communication styles and what could be the potential risks of the differences in styles.


  • Adapted from Stringer D.M. & Cassiday P.A. (2009) What would you do? in 52 Activities to Improve Cross-cultural Communication. Intercultural Press.
  • Image is sourced from Flickr | Smart Spaces Symposium by Central Asian | Attribution under Creative Commons 2.0.