Part 1 of 2 Series
Facilitating is, quite frankly, an art—especially in an intercultural context.
To be clear, for the purposes of this discussion, “facilitation” refers to more than just lecturing or training. It is more complex than that. A trainer’s role is more linear—delivering a prepared lecture within a set timeframe—and the trainer’s relationship with the audience is quite unilateral. A trainer might not be merely rehearsing rote material, but a trainer’s interactions with the audience are largely a one-way discourse. A facilitator’s relationship with the audience is multifaceted and intentionally designed to elicit participation.
When leading a workshop, a facilitator starts out with core content but is constantly listening to and engaging the audience. Apt facilitators work to create an environment conducive to learning. Flexibility is key—facilitators sometimes need to step in and out of the off-the-shelf curriculum, perhaps shift mid-stream to accommodate the audience, diving deeper, slowing or hastening the pace, adding or switching experiential activities.
For facilitators entrusted with the responsibility to lead teams and workshops for intercultural audiences, the dimensions and nuances multiply, and the stakes seem to grow even higher.
Real or perceived hurdles to effective “normal” communication (personality differences, family backgrounds, socioeconomic pressures, colloquialisms, accents and language barriers) are complicated further when multiple cultures are brought together and need to communicate effectively. And intercultural communication becomes an even more complex endeavor when you seek to facilitate it in a workshop with an intercultural audience—especially if the workshop is hosted in a cultural setting which is unfamiliar to the facilitator, too.
There are many things to be mindful of in presenting and communicating interculturally. A high-level overview of the picture would break it down to several components:
Your workshop’s structure—the “journey” you are facilitating for your audience, the curriculum, the agenda at-hand.
You have yourself as the presenter, as the facilitator.
Then you have your audience.
Next, you have your objectives that you intend to accomplish through the workshop experience.
Then the reaching of those objectives is affirmed and verified by means of audience engagement and discussion with key leaders in the audience.
No matter what kind of audience facilitators are engaging, there are standard methods used for communicating the message: Doing your pre-work, getting people into “the zone” by introducing them and drawing them closer to one another, and—once they are “in the zone”—delivering your message. And then the process deepens, as your audience begins to understand and you engage them with experiential activities that solidify that understanding, of anchoring in the message for them emotionally.
Last but not least, it is important to zoom out, phase out, and bring positive closure—and typically, “positive closure” means that you all celebrate what you have learned together, and you create an opportunity for each audience member to commit to change, to improvement, to development.
So with all these factors in play in any monocultural situation, of course, it stands to reason that all of those points are influenced by the “intercultural-ness” of an intercultural situation.
In this series on Facilitation and Communication part 2, we will unpack some examples of practical needs and problems facilitators face. Perhaps even more importantly, we will be sharing valuable Inter-Cultural Intelligence principles for leading workshops.
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