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.
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?
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?
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?
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.