This is crap | An intercultural competence activity

This activity is based on an article by Erin Meyer titled How to say “this is crap” in different cultures. Meyer recycles some material from an old Internet meme about British-Dutch cultural differences. Nevertheless, it demonstrates differences in how people convey feedback linguistically quite well.

intercultural feedback

Image attribution: Meeting by Howard Jefferson | Flickr | CC BY-NC 2.0

Objective 

Raise awareness of the cultural gap caused by direct vs. indirect approaches to giving feedback  and allow learners an opportunity to discuss ways of mitigating risks arising from these differences

Materials

Make copies of and cut up the table titled ‘Anglo-Dutch Translation Guide’ in this article. You don’t need to use the entire table as participants might take too long to unjumble it. Select four rows that your learners might find interesting.

Procedure

  • Board the phrase “this is absolute crap” and ask participants if they would ever use this phrase while giving feedback to a colleague about some work they’ve done. Ask them to discuss the reasons for their response with a partner.
  • As you take whole class feedback, you’ll find some participants articulating a softer response such as “this is sort of what I was looking for”. Board these.
  • Derive that some cultures are more explicit or direct in communicating feedback.
    • Upgraders: These direct cultures tend to use upgraders such as absolutely, strongly, or totally before negative feedback to strengthen it such as “This is absolutely inappropriate”. In these cultures, “this is absolute crap” may be perceived as acceptable.
  • Point out that other cultures are more implicit or indirect as perhaps with the utterances shared by the participants for softening the message.
    • Downgraders: These indirect cultures tend to use downgraders such as kind of, sort of, a little, a bit, maybe and slightly to soften the blow. They might also use a type of downgrader called an understatement such as “We are not quite there yet”.
  • Ask participants to categorize some national cultures based on whether they are relatively direct or indirect (bear in mind that indirect cultures like India often perceive themselves as more or less direct).
  • Board participants’ suggestions and circle the UK & the Netherlands.
  • Signpost the cutouts and state that the cutouts belong under three headers: What the British say, What the British mean, and What the Dutch understand. Ask participants to work in groups to put them in the right categories.
  • Get participants to identify the gap between what is being said/meant and what is understood and the problems this might create.

Action planning

  • Ask participants to think about the kind of culture they come from – indirect/direct – and consider their own personal orientation to giving feedback. Do they use upgraders or downgraders?
  • Have them imagine a situation where they are working with someone who has a different preference to feedback than them, what could they do to ensure that they are not misunderstood or don’t end up damaging the business relationship.

Reference: Meyer, E., How To Say “This Is Crap” In Different Cultures in the Harvard Business Review, Feb 2014.

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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.

Materials

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

Procedure 

  • 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.

Debrief

  • 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

Materials

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

Preparation

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.

Procedure

  • 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.

Discussion functions | A turn-taking activity

Discussion functions

A couple of days ago, I wrote about a course I taught last week where I needed to encourage my Ss to speak up. The other activity I used to spur my Ss to participate more actively in discussions was one I borrowed from Leadership Games by Stephen S. Kaagan. I must confess that I didn’t really focus on turn-taking as a skill as much as I did on giving Ss doable ideas for making their voices heard but it could be used quite effectively to practice language for turn-taking. I thought this was a very successful activity.

Materials 

Discussion function cards for each person, you’ll need 1 NT, 1 S, 1 I, 2 Qs and 4 Bs as in the image.

Procedure 

  • Divide your class into groups of 5 or 6 but no more than that or it will get unwieldy.
  • Write up a key for the cards on the WB or on a slide:
    • B: Build on an idea shared by the previous speaker.
    • NT: Introduce a different topic into the discussion.
    • Q: Ask a question of a speaker or the group.
    • I: Interrupt the discussion.
    • S: Synthesize or summarize the points made by other speakers.
  • Announce the topic for discussion. I used this one: “How do we as a service line or an organization stay innovative in an extremely competitive market?” Set the timer as appropriate and allow the Ss to discuss the topic.
  • Each time Ss speak, they must use one of the cards, slapping it on the table as they take their turn.
  • Ss must try to use up all their cards by the end of the discussion. They should be careful to space out their contributions so they don’t end up exhausting their cards too early. This should encourage them to listen to their colleagues and then comment appropriately instead of just hogging the limelight.
  • Debrief the activity by asking Ss to reflect on how they participated in the discussion and what they would do differently if they were to run the activity again. Ask them which cards they found easy to use and which cards more challenging. Did any of the cards compel them to participate in a way they wouldn’t normally do in a meeting?

Adapted from Discussion Functions. Kaagan, S.S., Leadership Games: Experiential Learning for Organizational Development. Sage Publications, 1999, pp.77-79

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

Materials

  • Blocks in different shapes and colours.

Procedure

  • 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.

Interruptions | A meeting skills activity

Business meeting

Interruptions … it’s something most my learners struggle with and it’s a skill they require daily because no one in a corporate setting can escape attending at least one meeting a day, if not more. To complicate matters, turn taking varies across cultures. In the US, Northern Europe and Japan, interruptions are uncommon and generally considered rude. In France, Brazil and India, interruptions are more common and are sometimes seen as a sign of being engaged. I’ve also observed that some of my learners in India tend to completely shut up when they are in meetings with overseas clients and seniors, to the extent that even when they genuinely need to interrupt to clarify something or provide some information, they don’t.  Here’s an activity that addresses both these issues. For learners who sort of talk over each other, it offers statements that can help them more politely take the turn. For learners who don’t interrupt at for fear of causing offence, it provides practice with interrupting.

Materials 

A deck of playing cards, whiteboard, WB markers. You’ll need to install Triptico and download the interruption spinner file – ideally you’ll need an LCD projector to project the spinner. Alternatively, you could just use an ordinary computer or a laptop.  Fair warning! Triptico unfortunately doesn’t run without internet connectivity but I’m sure you’ll be resourceful enough to find a tech free equivalent.

Preparation 

Divide the deck of cards according to the number of Ss but spread evenly across the same cards from the four suits . For example, if you have 16 Ss, take 2, 3, 4, 5 of Hearts; then 2, 3, 4, 5 of Diamonds and repeat across Spades and Clubs so you have 16 cards in all.  Open up Triptico and access Text Spinner under Selectors. Click on ‘Load from cloud’ and then ‘Load a text file’. Navigate to wherever you saved the interruption spinner file and you’re all set.

Procedure

  • Stage 1
    • Shuffle the cards and distribute them to Ss.
    • Ask Ss to find other Ss who have the same suit as them. Allocate different corners/tables to each suit.
    • Ss work with their groups to come up with phrases that can be used to interrupt during meetings. As groups settle on a list of phrases, ask them to send up group members to write the phrases up on the WB.
    • Elicit corrections if required and add any other expressions that might be appropriate or useful. Organize language into frames and chunks if you’re lexically inclined. Alex Case over at the TEFLtastic blog has a list of expressions for turn taking.
    • Ask Ss to decide whether some expressions are more appropriate for conference calls and which ones for in-person meetings.
  • Stage 2
    • Now ask Ss to regroup. To find their new groups, they’ll need to look for Ss who have the same number as them. So 2 of hearts, 2 of spades, 2 of diamonds and 2 of clubs get together etc.
    • Assign any meeting role play or scenario that’s appropriate to the groups.
    • Bring up the interruption spinner on the LCD projector. Explain to the Ss that once they start the meeting role play, you’ll spin the interruption spinner. If it lands up at Hearts, anyone who has a Hearts card will need to interrupt using one of the phrases listed on the WB and take the turn. There are three googlies as we like to say in India – Red, Black and Random. If the spinner displays Red – anyone who has hearts or diamonds can interrupt; likewise with black. Random means anyone can interrupt (this one’s a whole heap of fun!).

Debrief

  • Ask Ss which phrases were used most frequently and which ones least. What could be the reasons for this?
  • Ask Ss why interrupting might be easier in an in-person meeting (paralinguistic cues) than in telephonic one.
  • Lead a discussion about different perceptions towards interruptions across cultures and encourage Ss to talk about their discomfort if any with interrupting colleagues, clients and stakeholders in meetings.

Triptico Text Spinner

Image attribution: Meeting by John Benson | Creative Commons by 2.0