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Training for effective cross cultural communication

February 22, 2021 at 8:36:09 PM

By Carol M. Archer, Ed. D: April 20, 2001 A belligerent samurai, an old Japanese tale goes, once challenged a Zen master to explain the concept of heaven and hell. But the monk replied with scorn, “You’re nothing but a lout-I can’t waste my time with the likes of you!” His very honor attacked, the samurai few into a rage and pulling his sword from its scabbard yelled, “I could kill you for your impertinence.” “That,” the monk calmly replied, “is hell.” Startled at seeing the truth in what the master pointed out about the fury that had him in its grip, the samurai calmed down, sheathed his sword, and bowed, thanking the monk for the insight. “And that, ” said the monk, “is heaven.” (Goleman, 1995, p. 46)
Embedded in this folktale is an example of the ideal training. It is experiential in nature, is grounded in the reality of the participant, is designed in modular, interlocking parts, is simple in implementation, and results in self-awareness with a concurrent shift in mental models and a change in behavior . In fact, these are the same characteristics of a training for effective communication designed by Dr. Carol M. Archer. This training is unique in that it is integrated within a culture bump theoretical framework that actually uses the cultural differences to develop a set of skills that are necessary for developing authentic and deep relationships between individuals from differing cultural backgrounds. This training moves the participants beyond the question of why “they” are different from us into the question of how “we” are the same.
In order to achieve this result, her training design uses the methodologies from both the culture bump and the accelerated learning theories. The design also incorporates components from the cross communication and diversity branches under the intercultural communication field. These elements are used in a multilayered design that facilitates participant’s achievement of self-awareness from the several levels of knowledge. The programs’ design structure not only addresses the issue of changing personal awareness but has built in a modality for changing behavior. That is, once individuals achieve new cultural and individual self-awareness, participants then can self-select new, more effective communication behaviors. The grounding of both the content and results in the participants’ own experience results from the program’s underlying focus on generating new cultural meaning and forms along with analyzing existing patterns of systems. In order to better understand the complexity and structural configuration of this training, it is necessary to look briefly at the historical origins of intercultural communication.
Intercultural communication covers a wide spectrum of interests in the cross cultural and multicultural education fields. While multicultural education and diversity concentrate primarily on domestic issues in the United States, the field of intercultural communication also includes the branch of cross cultural communication which concentrates on educational, business and governmental exchanges between nations. This sub-specialty in the intercultural communication field emerged from the US involvement in the Peace Corp. It is primarily concerned with how to develop relationships among people from different backgrounds so as to be effective in living, working and studying in cultures different from one’s own. It is ably represented by such individuals as Hannigan, Bennett, Gundykunst and Ting-Toomey. While it emerged from the same source, it has developed differently from multicultural education and diversity training.
Specifically, the field of multicultural education which emerged from the Civil Rights Movement led into diversity training in the United States. The diversity movement deals primarily with issues of equity for various groups of people in the our country. A wealth of information about these various groups of people who reside in the United States has been developed by this branch of intercultural communication in its concern with ensuring equitable treatment for all groups – particularly those that have historically been excluded from power. The diversity movement has found a voice in leaders such as Robert Suzuki and James A. Banks. Banks has developed both theories and strategies for teaching ethnically different populations. He states, The multicultural curriculum should help students to master higher levels of knowledge so that they can better understand race and ethnic relations and develop the skills and abilities needed to make reflective personal and public decisions. (Banks, 1997, p. 59)
Translating this principle into training, he identifies four approaches for dealing with differences among people ranging from the contribution approach in which heroic individuals from various cultures are studied along with overt cultural traditions and artifacts to the social action approach. Social action combines a transformation approach where students view situations from other perspectives and then are asked to take a position to help solve them.
The social system and its historical processes along with social change and personal awareness are important parts of multicultural/diversity studies. The strength of this approach is in its identification of various groups that are not normally recognized in the countries’ collective consciousness, and further in understanding the process they undergo in living in a culture in which they are not the majority and finally focusing on the need for personal and social change. This discipline, however, does not provide a structured way in which the participants make the transition from recognition of different perceptions to an enlargement of their own worldview. While self-awareness is included, it is given less importance than the need to focus on minority group characteristics and needs.
In contrast, the field of cross cultural communication has been extremely aware of the difficulties involved in training people to live cross culturally and has been tied by Hall (l959) and Cushner and Brislin (l986) to the fact that individuals are unaware of their own culture and are frequently unable to reflect upon and learn from their experiences without a structure in which to do so. Indeed designs for successful cross cultural training as described by Gundykunst, Ting-Toomey and Wiseman (l991) and Hannigan (l990) focus on creating cultural self-awareness in the participants by examining culture in general and examining a model for delineating and understanding cultural differences. The strength of the cross cultural discipline has been in the development of effective cognitive and experiential methodologies. The discipline however, lacks a structured way to facilitate a change in the participants.
One reason that a personal change structure has failed to evolve in either diversity or cross cultural communication training is that both fields tend to deal with individuals at a macro-cultural level. The methodology for programs in these fields has been developed with a focus on individuals as products of a culture rather than focusing on individuals as generators of their own culture. Multicultural education and cross cultural communication theory has been built around identifying the various values and behaviors of individual cultures rather than focusing on how individuals create and interpret their own cultural identity. While both approaches stress the need for recognizing different perceptions, neither approach provides a specific guideline for leveraging that awareness into a self-awareness that translates into a changed behavior. The culture bump theory addresses this structural need for a change mechanism in cultural programming. It thus incorporates both the strengths of diversity and cross cultural communication training by acknowledging and delineating cultural differences but expands the training experience by incorporating a structure for moving the participants beyond the differences in a synergistically created interaction. This is achieved by designing a training cognizant of human reaction to differences.
Archer (1991) describes the culture bump (cultural difference) as that phenomenon which occurs when an individual has expectations of a particular behavior within a particular situation and encounters a different behavior when interacting with an individual from another culture. Expectations in this definition refer to the expectations of “normal behavior as learned in one’s own culture” (p. 45). While culture bump theory consists of a cluster of concepts regarding the effect of cultural differences on interpersonal, intercultural interactions such as their relationship with stereotyping and their duration, it is in the notion of how culture specific knowledge is acquired and its effect on relationships that culture bump theory contributes most to a training design.
In examining how cultural knowledge is acquired, it is necessary to understand the reaction to culture bumps. It is assumed that human beings feel disconnected when encountering a cultural difference and adopt coping strategies in an attempt to alleviate their feelings of anomie. Implicit within these strategies is the assumption that if the motive for the behavior were known, then the discomfort would be alleviated. However, the information and the interactions emanating from these strategies are “culture bound” which means that they are characterized by a tendency to (1) focus on the contrast culture (2) identify the attributes of one or the other of the cultures and (3) perpetuate and replicate cultural differences in the structure of their interaction with individuals from the other culture. Therefore, the participants’ bias is neither identified nor acknowledged and remains embedded in their unconscious, intersubjective world.
In a culture bump training, however, the participants continue their exploration with one another beyond the culture bound level of awareness. Either formally or informally, they self reflect on their (1) cultural characteristics and (2) cultural commonalties or universal themes. Participants emerge from this process with a sense of detachment, a conscious recognition of the cultural relativism of their own expectations and a discovery of meaning attached to those expectations. A series of steps have been designed to guide individuals encountering culture bumps through the process out of which these three aspects become explicit. This type of culture free interaction while not as instinctive as culture bound interactions provides the possibility for relieving the original, frequently unconscious feeling of anomie.
Approaching cultural differences from the perspective of a culture bump allows an individual to view cultural differences, not as problems to be solved, but as opportunities to learn more about oneself and others. The focus of culture bump training is not to solve and eliminate a bump but to reveal new insights into one’s own character or culture. Indeed, culture bump theory assumes that culture bumps are never eliminated since one’s own culture is never eliminated. Without self-reflection, culture bumps maintain the potential for misunderstanding even within the confines of a training.
Therefore in a culture bump training, the content emerges from the cultural differences of the participants themselves. An important aspect of this approach is that the participants define their own cultural identity and beliefs and in the process of uncovering and sharing their own cultural criteria, their prejudice and ethnocentric “blind spots” are surfaced. This process that is both synergistic and transformational leads to a cognitive and an affective awareness of cultural relativism. It then continues a step further by exploring various patterns for dealing with universal life situations. With this approach, prejudice and ethnocentric “blind spots” are not eliminated but are identified, acknowledge and become a part of the process itself. They are a necessary element for diverse individuals to truly connect with one another. In one sense, by using the culture bump, individuals, more than describing what happens as simple events, are actually accessing the domain of understanding of another’s world view – not as knowledge – but through an extension of his or her own horizon. It is at this stage, that the individual participant may have moved toward mastery of … higher levels of knowledge so that they can better understand race and ethnic relations and develop the skills and abilities needed to make reflective personal and public decisions. (Banks, 1997, p.59)
Within the confines of a training, this begins the formation of the multicultural human relationships so vital in work and educational settings. The culture bump training includes the fundamental components of a cross cultural/diversity training as described by Gunykunst (199) in which a framework of culture general, communication styles and models for cultural differences are included. It includes the training for the traits and skills that are necessary for cross cultural effectiveness as defined by Hannigan (1990). It also includes an overt description of culture bumps as well as personal coaching on how to analyze culture bumps. However, it is in the sequencing and the underpinnings of the training design that the culture bump truly enhances the learning. All training activities are designed to move participants from culture bound to culture free knowledge and interactions. Furthermore the sequence of the entire training is based on the eight steps of the culture bump.
These eight steps actually embody the 5 skills that are necessary for effective cross cultural communication. These include the ability to distinguish cultural differences from personal differences, to recognize and articulate one’s own expectations in any situations and to manage one’s emotions when confronting cultural differences. In addition, the skill of analysis of one’s meanings as well as an analysis of the universal aspect of any cultural difference is necessary for developing meaningful interactions and relationships with individuals from differing cultures. Ultimately, this results in the participants not only acquiring knowledge about culture, but in extending their world horizon. This conscious movement toward a shift in mental models is mirrored in the methodology of accelerated learning.
Heidenhain (l999) defines accelerated Learning (AL) as both a methodology for teaching/facilitating and an instructional design model which is based on the philosophy of Dr. Georgi Lozanov, a Bulgarian doctor and psychotherapist. In the 1960’s he became fascinated with the gap in the learning among various individuals. He noticed that certain teachers achieved higher levels of learning that others – even using the same methods. He was very interested in how the brain’s potential for learning seemed to be untapped in educational situations. He received grant money to travel around the world and collect the best practices in education out of which emerged his method which he called suggestopedia. One of his major tenets concerned the mental models that correspond to the concept of an individual’s world view. He recognized that they often hinder an individual’s ability to achieve and learn. Heidenhain points out that, “Based on this knowledge, he then developed a methodology to work with these mental models in a way than enables a positive shift in mental models and the development of the capacity to learn in individuals and ultimately in organizations. He further recognized that the training of the teacher/facilitator had to incorporate both self-awareness as well as skill development so as to create environments and structures in which the individual transformation occurred thereby facilitating the shift in self awareness that ensures a higher level of learning. His work has been developed in the United States under the name of Accelerated Learning by individuals such as Charlotte LeHecka and Gail Heidenhain.
Both practitioners have enlarged on Lazonov’s learning cycle. The cycle consists of five phases – centering, motivation, presentation, practice and integration. The centering phase is designed so that participants naturally release their concerns about matters outside the training environment so that they are fully present for the learning experience. This could involve participants voicing their concerns, having an overview of the workshop or some other type of mind calming activity. In the motivation phase, the facilitator creates an experience so that the participants can determine what the upcoming workshop could mean for them in their personal life or their work life. It provides an opportunity for each participant to “buy into” the upcoming learning experience. In the discovery phase the learner discovers “new information”. The discovery can be made in a variety of ways – through simulations, case studies, material presented through a dramatic text being read to classical and then to baroque music. The presentation is done in a variety of ways to appeal to all learning styles. The same care for all learning styles is inherent in the types of activities chosen for the practice phases also. During this phase the participants practice the new material with activities that are designed with lower risk at the inception of the phase to a clear demonstration of mastery at the final stage of the phase. The final and fifth phase is an integration phase in which the participants reflect on what they have learned and how they will use their learning in the future. This cycle works,
Holistically and synergistically, the sum of the whole being more than each individual part. The entire cycle is orchestrated in such a way that the learning flows and the sense of personal competence and control grows in the learners. The beauty of the model is that it not only facilitates the learning process effectively and efficiently, it also helps to create a new mindset around learning. The learners become proficient learners, with a learner mentality, a curiosity and a willingness to contribute to the shared learning in an organization and the systems in which they live and work. Heidenhain P. 4.1
These results are ensured by certain elements always being embedded within the different phases of the cycle. One of the elements always present is a pleasant and stress-free environment both physically and emotionally. A well-trained facilitator is the key to the creation of such an environment. He or she has to understand the learning cycle well in addition to identifying the learning needs of each of the participants. With this knowledge, he or she has the ability to be flexible in implementing the cycle and the content so as to facilitate the highest possible learning for each participant. The conscious use of specific music for particular purposes – such as learning new material, transitions or relaxation is also always present. Creative methods and exercises that unleash the potential of each participant not only assure a higher level of knowledge but increases learner involvement. Thus AL learning methodology itself helps participants to peel away the layers so that an individual becomes conscious of his or her own mental models in the same way that the circular approach of the culture bump reveals the individual’s own bias. Thus there is a natural merging of these two approaches to learning and change.
The multi-level design of the Effective Communication in the Workplace Training (ECWT) therefore, interweaves the approach of accelerated learning and culture bump theory while incorporating the basic components of a diversity training or a cross cultural communication training. In the ECWT, the concepts of perceptions, values (cultural, personal, universal), communication styles, cultural models and cultural adjustment are explored as content that emerges from the participants’ own experience. It is this grounded approach leads to a shift in each participant’s world view or mental model. A further characteristic of the design is its flexibility. The basic training consists of ten components which require approximately fifteen to sixteen hours. The components can be delivered in a variety of ways – depending on the need of the client. They can be delivered totally as stand-up training, or in a combination of standup training and in DVD, video, on-line or written form which can be done independently by the participants. All materials developed are developed according to culture bump theory and are delivered by accelerated learning methodology.
Participants emerge with a higher level of self confidence and self-awareness as well as an awareness for the need to learn how to work as a multicultural team and for the need for more information about other cultural groups. They become more skillful in sharing their own culture with other people. As a result of the creation of a shared experience, all participants emerge with a common language and base of concepts with which they can continue to communicate about differences. Indeed, the creation of the term “culture bump” creates a common language for individuals to discuss cultural differences that depersonalizes the incidents as well as empowering the individuals who experience them. Furthermore, this information base, while learned primarily about differences in national culture, also transfers to differences in cage, gender, ethnicity, and professional background. This shift in mental models leads to communication effectiveness, higher team efficiency and communicative abilities. In fact, the combination of the culture bump and accelerated learning is particularly effective in not only communication workshops but language acquisition classes.
This design for a communication workshop may not be as quick or as simple as the Zen master and the samurai, but it has a synchronicity and simplicity of its own. Its multilevel design allows the maximum opportunity for a participant to achieve the insights that lead to Bernstein’s (l983) true conversation – “an extended and open dialogue which presupposes a background of intersubjective agreements and a tacit sense of relevance” (p. 2). So unlike the Zen master and a samurai, this learning experience continues over an indefinite period of time but like the Japanese, the connection is gratifying and substantive. Heaven indeed. Works Cited:
Archer, C. M. (l991). Living with strangers in the USA:Communicating beyond culture. Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey: Prentice-Hall, Inc.
Archer, C.M. (l986) Culture bump and beyond. In J. M. Valdes (Ed.), Culture bound: Bridging the cultural gap in language teaching (pp. 170-178).Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Banks, J.A. (L997) Multiethnic education: Theory and practice. Needham Heights, MA 02194: Allyn and Bacon
Bernstein, R. J. (l983). Beyond objectivism and relativism: science, hermeneutics, and praxis. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press.
Cushner, K. & Brislin, R. (l986). Bridging gaps: Cross-cultural training in teacher education, Journal of Teacher Education, 37, 51-54.
Goleman, D. (l995) Emotional intelligence: Why it can matter more than IQ. New York, New York. Bantam Books.
Gudykunst, William B. and Young Yun Kim. (l984). Communicating with strangers: An approach to intercultural communication. Reading, Mass.: Addison-Wesley Publishing Co.
Gundykunst, W. B. Ting-Toomey, S. & Wiseman, R. L. (l991). Taming the beast: Designing a course in intercultural communication. Managing Multicultural Communication Education, 40, 272-285. (December 19, 2011)

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