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Diversity issues: Clash of the cultures


As we engage in an evermore multicultural society, should trainers be better versed in dealing with other cultures? Diversity specialist, Philippe Nitzer gives his pointers to avoid any cultural faux-pas.

Should those training people of other cultures undertake diversity training? This is an interesting question and one which organisations generally approach in two ways. 

The first approach, which the many companies tend to practice is to ignore diversity altogether. The starting point for these organisations is that in a global age, individuals should be able to work together regardless of an employee’s place of origin. Employees – quiet rightly – should not be discriminated against because of race or creed and in Western society everyone should be treated the same. 
This is a politically correct approach however, it ignores the fact that many employees making up project teams do come from a multitude of different backgrounds and nations. As a result, they naturally have different values, priorities and communication styles which if ignored can reduce overall team productivity.
Therefore, an alternative approach where trainers and managers are briefed in how to manage aspects of diversity to ensure each team member can often achieve the highest level of understanding in a training environment and therefore, subsequently be in a good position to give their very best work.

Culture by culture

The one common factor that trainers teaching people of different cultures will come across is that often an employees’ first language is not English. Provision for this should be taken into consideration. Avoiding jargon, colloquialisms and providing written material to support course content can all be helpful.
However, in addition, it must be noted that different cultures receive information in different ways. These modes of listening are created through years of living with cultural values and rules that are often invisible. 
Take Asian, Latin American, South European and African cultures for example. In a training environment, the trainer will be expected to be an expert and tell the trainees what to do. The process will be expected to be one-way. There will be few or no questions as the audience would consider this might offend the trainer - making it appear that he or she hadn’t been able to put a point across properly.
People from Japan however, understand that in Britain or the USA it is expected that questions should be asked. Therefore, questions will be prepared well in advance and as a result, may seem irrelevant when asked during a training session.
The typical Western training technique of ‘role play’ may present issues for some cultures – particularly those from Asia who value the need not to lose face. A role play where groups are invited to practice a skill they have not yet mastered could result in embarrassment and make those individuals very ill at ease.
Similarly, any trainer presenting to a German or French audience would be expected to have a detailed understanding of the theory behind any concept being taught, and to convey this thoroughly before any practical training occurs.  Those from Northern Europe, the UK and the USA are the most interactive audiences and welcome dialogue with the trainer but are also heavily data driven. The Chinese and some Asian cultures on the other hand, prefer to learn from books and handouts. Follow-up through the best text books will be when the most learning occurs.

Preparation is key

The best way for a trainer to work with diverse groups of employees in a training environment is to be sure the trainer is aware of the group make up in advance. Then, it is important to accommodate different learning styles by adopting a mix of learning modes. These can be presentation style, dialogue based and role play. However, volunteers should be sought. Those that come forward or ask questions are the ones who are from cultures which make it comfortable for them to do so. Others will learn by observation.
Diversity training will ensure that no employee is offended by asking them to participate in interactive learning where this is alien to their cultural values. However, most importantly, by accommodating different styles of learning overall communication of the training topic will be far more effective.
To implement diversity awareness and training within any organisation, it must begin from a top-down approach. Awareness is the first step, followed by training then practice.   Outside the organisation when dealing with customers the need to manage cultural relationships with care is well recognised. However, by bringing diversity training in-house, benefits will be felt throughout the modern day organisation.

Read our other article in the diversity training series here.
Philippe Nitzer is the senior intercultural trainer at Farnham Castle International Briefing and Conference Centre which specialises in cross cultural management development programmes and international assignment briefings. For more information visit:

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