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50 Activities for Achieving Cultural Competence

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An outstanding source for training activties relating to employee empowerment. Today most executives and managers need to have an international business and cross-cultural perspective. 50 Activities for Achieving Cultural Competence includes 50Ã_training activities and self-development exercises to prepare your personnel for international assignments and develop better understanding of cross-cultural communication. Compiled by a team of experts from around the world, these ready-to-use activities have been tested and refined for a wide variety of international businesses and organizations. They are ideal for both preparing people to work, market, negotiate, and otherwise do business with people in Asia, Latin America, and Europe and for preparing foreign nationals to work in the United States.

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1. Coups and Faux Pas

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Coups and Faux Pas

1

Dr. George Simons, George Simons International 

Mandelieu‐la Napoule, France 

Purpose 

To open an intercultural training program and begin a discussion of how cultural differences affect us in work or daily life

Target audience 

This activity is for groups starting to learn about working or doing business across cultures. It requires some experience abroad (for work or vacation) or experience interacting with people of other cultures. Group members should not be afraid to share personal experiences. Coups and Faux Pas can be used even if most of the people in the group already know one another or are an intact work group. If the group is larger than 16, subdivide it into smaller groups for introductions there.

Time 

Allow 5 minutes to set up the activity and introduce yourself. Then allow 1½ to 2 minutes per person, plus a few minutes to debrief.

Materials and environment 

Handout 1: “66 Ways We Differ” for each participant

Procedure 

Include the handout in the course documentation or put one at each person’s place before the start of the program.

 

2. See Differences and Similarities

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2

See Differences and Similarities

Ann Houston Kelley, M.A., Nomadic Life Management Consultants 

Voorschoten, The Netherlands 

Purpose and learning objectives 

This is an introductory activity for a cross-cultural or diversity training session. It is best used after a round of formal participant introductions and an overview of the training program and procedures. This activity allows everyone to see the similarities as well as the richness of the diversity in the group. Specifically, it enables

• individual participants to experience visually and experientially how they are like and how

they are unlike their fellow participants;

• the group of participants as a whole to see what the group is and what it is not;

• the trainer(s) to start making connections with the participants around the topic of differ-

ences and similarities;

• the trainer(s) to find out more about the participants and what their experiences are related

to the topic. In today’s fast-paced business environment, getting useful pre-program background information about session participants is often a luxury. Internal corporate training departments are short-staffed, last minute substitutions are common, and participants are often “too busy doing their jobs” to complete and return a pre-program questionnaire

 

3. Where in the world do you come from?

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Where in the world do you come from?

3

Walt Hopkins, Castle Consultants 

Crook of Devon, Scotland 

Purpose 

To involve people in the discussion of cultural origins and background in a low risk, engaging, and instructive way

Target audience 

This is a good opening exercise for a group starting a training program. It is useful for groups ranging in size from six people up to the capacity of the room.

Time 

20 minutes or more, depending on the size of the group and the number of questions to which you ask the group to respond

Materials and environment 

• A large world map, preferably the Peters Projection World Map (see the Resources

listing)

• Flipchart and markers

• A large open area

Procedure 

Put the map on the floor in the middle of the room. Ask the group to stand around it. (If using the Peters Map, give them some background about how it changes our perspective of the world. The materials that come with the Peters Map can help you with this.)

Ask people to use the map as a guide and place themselves in the room at the place where they were born. Invite them to observe where people are standing, introduce themselves, make remarks, and ask one another questions about their background. You can also do the exercise in several stages (ask them to move from where they were born to where they live now, to where they would like to live, etc.).

 

4. Celebrations

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Celebrations

4

Selma Myers, Intercultural Development 

San Diego, California, USA 

and Jonamay Lambert, Lambert Associates 

Hoffman Estates, Illinois, USA 

Purpose 

• To help participants understand the meaning of holidays practiced by diverse peoples and

countries

• To explore how these observances can affect the global workplace, as well as interper-

sonal business relations

Target audience 

This activity is richer when used with large groups of diverse participants. It is especially useful for people living and working in countries other than their own. It will also help business people in their own country when they are affected by local or national celebrations of other countries. It is a high-energy activity that gets people engaged quickly and in an enjoyable way.

Time 

30 minutes

Materials and environment 

Flipchart and markers

Handout 1, “Celebrations and You,” for each participant

Handout 2, “Holidays Around the World,” for each participant

Handout 3, “Create an International Calendar of Holidays,” for each participant

 

5. Identity

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5

Identity

Steve Kulich, Shanghai International Studies University 

Shanghai, China 

Purpose and objectives 

• To provide a simple process that helps participants become aware of their own cultural

identities

• To enable participants to get to know one another more deeply than in traditional ice-

breakers by having them reflect individually and interact with one another

• To establish what members of the group have in common, and build a sense of teamwork

• To help participants realize and appreciate what is unique about themselves and one

another as they start to work together

• To clarify the expectations that group members might have about one another and about

the trainer

Target audience 

The activity is effective with new or ongoing groups and can be adapted for use in various types of business, government, or classroom training. It is equally useful with homogenous or diverse groups of 4 to 20 persons.

Time 

15 to 45 minutes, depending on your training objectives, level of explanation, and amount of group interaction. Suggested flow:

 

6. Insider–Outsider

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Insider–Outsider

6

Donna Stringer, Executive Diversity Services, Inc. 

Seattle, Washington, USA 

Purpose 

To help participants understand the following:

• We all experience being both an “insider” and an “outsider.”

• Insider feelings and behaviors tend to be positive and lead to good teamwork. (Exception:

Insiders can become bored because they are too much like everyone else.)

• Outsider feelings and behaviors tend to be more negative and tend to interfere with team-

work. (Exception: Outsiders can feel unique or special—especially if they and others value their differences.)

• We don’t have to be, look, or act alike in order to feel included.

• Using empathy—remembering how we felt as an outsider—can make us more effective in

helping someone who feels like an outsider to start feeling included.

Target audience 

This activity targets most groups addressing intercultural and diversity issues. It is particularly useful for groups that are beginning to work together or that are experiencing insider– outsider stress because of reorganization, merging, etc. This activity has been used with up to

 

7. Silent Interview

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7

Silent Interview

Donna Stringer, Executive Diversity Services, Inc. 

Seattle, Washington, USA 

Purpose and learning objectives 

• To introduce training participants to one another

• To examine stereotypes and first impressions

• To examine what cultural assumptions people make on first meeting

Target audience 

This is a good icebreaker for a diversity awareness class where participants do not know one another well. It has worked in several international groups with up to 13 national populations represented and is especially useful for making the point that stereotypes are based on visual differences.

Time 

60 minutes with a group of 30 or less. Use with larger groups is not recommended because the reporting and introductions step becomes tedious if too many are in the group. It is ideal for groups of 20 or less.

Materials 

• Handout 1, “Silent Interview: Process,” for each participant

• Handout 2, “Interview Questions,” for each participant

Procedure 

1. Pair individual participants with others whom they don’t know or whom they know least well.

 

8. Working in Unfamiliar Surroundings

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8

Working in Unfamiliar

Surroundings

Marianne Brandt, Global Bonding 

Northville, Michigan, USA 

Purpose and learning objectives 

This exercise will help participants understand what it is like to work in another culture, think in a second language, or start a new job where the rules are unfamiliar. It also creates awareness for coworkers as to what it is like to work in or learn a second language.

Target audience 

This activity targets anybody who works or studies in another country, works with people from different countries or cultures, or is preparing to start a new job or career.

Time 

15 to 30 minutes, depending on the size of the group. This activity can also be used as an icebreaker.

Materials and environment 

• Stopwatch or watch with second hand

• A copy of Handout 1, “Working in Unfamiliar Surroundings: Quiz,” for each participant

• Pencils or pens

• Overhead projector and transparency or flipchart with correct answers. If you have several

small groups, make copies of Handout 2, “Answers and Discussion Questions for Small

 

9. Who am I? Who are you?

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9

Who am I? Who are you?

Eric Lynn, LCT Consultants 

Nümberg, Germany 

Purpose and learning objectives 

This activity is designed to facilitate understanding of one’s business counterparts, based on the principle “Let them talk.”

At the end of the activity, participants will have

• actively examined their personal needs in relation to working with a new set of

colleagues;

• obtained a better understanding of their new colleagues.

Target audience 

This activity targets international groups of up to 12 people who will be working together.

Time 

60 minutes (plus an optional 30 minutes). For additional rounds, allow 30 minutes for stage 2.

Materials and environment 

One leaflet (Handout 1) per participant

Pens or pencils

Flipcharts and markers

This works best when participants are seated close together, on chairs arranged in a circle

(without tables)

Procedure 

1. Distribute leaflets to participants. Ask them to individually make notes (20 minutes). In an event held over several days, you can save time by distributing the leaflets as “homework” on the first evening and running the activity on the second day. This has the added benefit of allowing the participants more time to reflect.

 

10. Response to Differences Scale

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10

Response to Differences Scale

Dianne Hofner Saphiere, Nipporica Associates 

Leawood, Kansas, USA 

Purpose and learning objectives 

• To learn a new model of how to bridge differences (the four-phase model)

• To better understand how one’s approach to differences affects interactions with others

• To experience first-hand the power of dialogue and the importance of creating explicit

group processes that enable all group members to contribute to accomplishing a task

Target audience 

Groups of 3 to 5 people

Time 

Approximately 75 minutes

Materials and environment 

• Flipcharts or writing paper, as needed

• Copies of Handout 1, “Self-Reflection,” and Handout 2, “Dealing with Differences,” for

each participant

• Overhead or flipchart to show the model

Procedure 

1. Give each participant a copy of the “Self-Reflection” handout.

2. Ask participants to think of a time when they were working on a team and had to work with someone different from them, such as a person with a very different work style or differing opinions.

 

11. Cultural Awareness through Self-Reflection

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11

Cultural Awareness through

Self-Reflection

Plamen Makariev, Sofia University 

Sofia, Bulgaria 

Purpose and learning objectives 

To promote self-reflection in each participant, making their cultural identity more flexible and open to rational control so that they can interact more harmoniously with people of other cultures

Self-reflection is necessary for cultural relativism and awareness.∗ It mentally distances a person from the dynamics of his or her own personality. This enables the participant to see his or her knowledge, values, attitudes, habits, and other personality traits as features that he or she can more or less rationally control, rather than as predetermining behavior. Without self-reflection at some basic, even intuitive level, one remains firmly stuck in the circumstances of one’s own culture and is unable to understand or come to terms with alternative ways of life or conflicting values. Consequently, he or she is not able to communicate effectively with people of other cultures.

 

12. Building with Differences

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Building with Differences

12

Claire B. Halverson, Ph.D., School for International Training 

Brattleboro, Vermont, USA 

Purpose 

This activity introduces participants to the high- and low-context framework of Edward Hall, and explores the opportunities and challenges found in cultural differences. Participants will

• identify aspects of Hall’s high- and low-context framework that affect interpersonal inter-

actions and team behavior;

• improve their ability to observe cultural behavior;

• discover how differences can offer opportunities as well as challenges in interpersonal

interactions and team settings.

Target audience 

This is an introductory activity, requiring at least 10 participants (and no upper limit). It is appropriate for people in a multicultural work setting—particularly for teams.

Time 

90 minutes

Materials and environment 

• One copy of Handout 1, “Cultural-Context Chart” for each participant

• Three copies of Handout 2, “High-Context Role Card,” and three copies of Handout 3,

“Low-Context Role Card” (samples for the towers option are given on the next page)

 

13. The Stereotype Gallery

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13

The Stereotype Gallery

Eric Lynn, LCT Consultants 

Nümberg, Germany 

Purpose and learning objectives 

This activity helps groups to work together more successfully on international projects. At the end of the activity, participants will

• have recognized their own stereotypes and those of their colleagues, and will have been

exposed to others’ perceptions of them;

• realize the damage that stereotyping can do to cooperation; and

• have defined a framework for future cooperation.

Target audience 

This activity is designed for multicultural groups of 20 to 50 people.

Time 

70 minutes

Materials and environment 

• A number of flipcharts (number of subgroups plus 2)

• Sufficient board markers, masking tape

• A large room with open space. Tables are not required, and chairs are needed only during

debriefing phases. The flipcharts are placed at various points around the room so that each subgroup has sufficient space in which to work without disturbing the neighboring group.

Procedure 

1. Briefly introduce the concepts of stereotyping, bias, and prejudice, relating them to why the participants are at this workshop or training. Say something like this: “We all have stereotypes, both positive and negative, about other cultural groups. This is not bad in itself. Stereotypes become negative when we allow them to interfere with how we judge a situation or communicate with someone.” (5 minutes)

 

14. In Other Worlds: An Intercultural Space Fantasy

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In Other Worlds: An

Intercultural Space Fantasy

14

Dr. Geroge Simons, George Simons International 

Mandelieu‐la Napoule, France 

Purpose 

This activity engages up to four individuals or groups in the preparation and discussion of a cultural report about the people of a fantasy planet, using an environmental profile of the planet assigned to them. In the activity, participants

• explore and discuss the relationship of environment to culture;

• assess the positive and negative roles of stereotypes in our understanding of our own and

others’ cultures;

• discuss how and why we behave culturally as we do.

Target audience 

The activity appeals to technologically oriented individuals and many younger people. It provides them with an opportunity to understand cultural dynamics. It may be used with either four individuals or four small groups.

Time 

75 to 90 minutes

Materials 

• One copy of Handout 1, “Team Instruction Sheet,” for each participant

• Enough copies of Handouts 2 through 5, the four planetary environmental profiles (one

 

15. Communication Continuum

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15

Communication Continuum

Donna Stringer, Executive Diversity Services, Inc. 

Seattle, Washington, USA 

Purpose and learning objectives 

• To identify the range of communication style preferences in a group

• To allow participants to identify the strengths and weaknesses of their own and others’

preferred styles in the workplace

• To help them see the value of having and using all three styles

• To explore the advantages of using a preferred style of communicating, rather than having

to adapt to a workplace cultural norm

Target audience 

Individuals and groups who need to communicate with people in the workplace who have and use different styles of communication.

Time 

60 minutes

Materials and environment 

• One copy of Handout 1, “Descriptions of REI Communication Styles,” for each partici-

pant (optional)

• Flipcharts and markers for each of three or more groups

• Room with enough open space for all participants to move about and take three different

positions on an imaginary triangle

Procedure 

1. Present a brief explanation of how societies tend to teach a preferred communication style based on cultural values. Describe the rational, emotive, and intuitive communication styles. You can use the description in Handout 1, or construct a new one with examples of your own.

 

16. Mixed Messages

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Mixed Messages

16

Jonamay Lambert, Lambert Associates 

Hoffman Estates, Illinois, USA 

and Selma Myers, Intercultural Development, Inc. 

San Diego, California, USA 

Purpose 

• To increase knowledge about different communication patterns based on culture.

• To reduce the possibility of stereotyping or misinterpreting another’s behavior.

Target audience 

The target audience is individuals and groups who will be working with others from different cultures and who are interested in the impact of culture on communication. The activity is most effective with 15 to 20 participants.

Time 

20 minutes

Materials and environment 

• A set of instruction slips

• One copy of Handout 1, “Verbal and Nonverbal Differences Across Cultures” for each

participant

• A room where participants can work in pairs

Procedure 

1. Divide participants into four equal groups. Name the groups A, B, C, and D.

2. Introduce the activity by telling the participants that they will be engaged in a brief activ-

ity that will be enjoyable and informative. Give to each of the four groups a corresponding instruction slip. (Group A receives the Group A Instructions, Group B the Group B

 

17. The Transcultural Communicator

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The Transcultural

Communicator

17

George Simons, George Simons International 

Mandelieu‐la Napoule, France 

and Walt Hopkins, Castle Consultants 

Crook of Devon, Scotland 

Purpose 

This activity introduces participants to an analytical instrument that they can subsequently use to prepare themselves for cross-cultural communication and negotiation situations.

Target audience 

Individuals and groups who must communicate or negotiate across cultures. Training in the use of this instrument can be done in groups of any manageable size.

Time 

There are four sections to this instrument. It takes 45 to 75 minutes to introduce and learn to use one critical section of the instrument, depending on the section you choose. The instrument can also be used as the practical outline for a daylong course on intercultural communication: introduce two sections in the morning and two in the afternoon. In this case, the trainer might give more extensive information on intercultural communication in preparing to present the instrument. Information in Handout 1 will assist in this.

 

18. Forced Choices

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18

Forced Choices

Richard Friend, Ph.D., Friend and Associates, Inc. 

Chicago, Illinois, USA 

Purpose and learning objectives 

Forced-choice exercises challenge participants to be both interactive and introspective. They require participants to make a choice, take a stance, or put their stakes in the ground about some topic, issue, or challenge. Objectives for this activity include

• promoting active discussion while practicing key communication skills: assertion and self-

disclosure, taking a position, listening for understanding, and giving and receiving feedback;

• energizing the group through the use of physical, visual movement;

• modeling how to create a safe environment in order to communicate about differences

between groups, by recognizing common ground and areas of difference;

• greater understanding of one’s own personal beliefs, opinions, and attitudes, as well as

those of others.

Target audience 

This activity has been effectively used with intact work groups as a meeting energizer and with the general public. A minimum of 12 people is required. When the group is larger than

 

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