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The Art of Facilitation

Updated: May 23, 2023

Part 2 of 2 Series

Facilitation and communication within monocultural scenarios can be complex enough, but “the plot thickens” still more in multicultural scenarios.

There are many things about which facilitators work to keep mindful of while presenting and communicating. Last week’s discussion centered on a workshop’s structure and direction, the facilitator, his/her audience, key learning objectives, and audience engagement that solidifies and affirms what was learned during the workshop.

All of these have bearing to be considered in different workshop settings—implications that may be of little, zero, or tremendous consequence in intercultural environments. And, especially as technology develops, telecommunication capacities increase, and our increasingly globalized world gets smaller and smaller, there are even more aspects of communication to be considered thoughtfully and carefully. For example, these content-specific aspects:

  • Technology-driven pieces of content (e.g., audio, video, slides, diagrams, animations, live interactive calls, live assessments)

  • Context—the country, region, city, neighborhood…down to the actual room where your workshop is held

  • Use of imagery

  • Engaging as many senses as possible in the learning process (e.g., visual, touch, motion, etc.)

“Intercultural-ness” has an exponential influence

Again, with all these factors in play in any monocultural situation, of course, it stands to reason that all of those points are deeply and exponentially influenced by the “intercultural-ness” of an intercultural situation.

Whether it occurs to us personally or not, depending upon the cultural paradigms we come from, even the technology we use in a classroom or workshop can change the “vibe” or tone of the workshop. The implied or inferred atmosphere can be impacted. Any change, no matter how “small” or “neutral,” might actually have great significance for certain participants.

Likewise, the context must be handled carefully. Again, “context” could be the actual room that you’re in, it could be the building you’re in, it could be the city, or neighborhood, or area.

And the way you use imagery has a huge impact from an intercultural point of view. Certain images are offensive in one culture—yet, in another culture, they would be perfectly fine. Certain images or video clips are considered “funny” in one cultural context, but are highly offensive in another cultural context.

In fact, while we’re talking about visual and audio, developing tech and utilizing your surroundings (context) —you really do have to consider how to engage all of the senses, in general. What do you do with movement, for example? What do you do with getting people up from their seats? With encouraging them to mingle, move about the room, ask each other questions, asking that they do activities together. If you are inviting them to interact and collaborate on experiential activities together, you need to be very considerate of the different backgrounds of the audience, of the way different cultures perceive reality and how they perceive these activities.

Perhaps trust falls and obstacle courses would be inappropriate for certain groups and individuals. What if you are facilitating a workshop for a mixed-gender group? So many different facets to think through—how do different cultures respond to [inter-]gender collaboration in a group setting, in a workshop setting. When you start doing experiential exercises, for instance, one thing you must consider is touch. Are your participants able to touch?

Making the context part of your text can be incredibly powerful.

One of KnowledgeWorkx’s previous directors from South Africa used to say, “If you can make the context part of your text, that is incredibly powerful.” If your audience members can look around the room and identify applications, if they are encouraged to “think local” about concepts you are trying to introduce to them, it gives them mental hooks to hang ideas on—which leads to longer-lasting retention. They will remember better and use longer what they already have in mind as immediately feasible in everyday life, i.e., in the context that is, for them, the norm.

KnowledgeWorkx is based in Dubai—and so one practical example we see in our part of the world has to do with apparel. Certain conventional workshop activities seem to presuppose that all people wear jeans or pants or slacks. But in a Middle Eastern context, men wear dishdashas. So, while some of the suggested experiential exercises might be easy for trouser-wearers, these same activities might be more challenging if you customarily wear a dishdasha.

The complexity increases when, for instance, in a Muslim setting, you realize you are scheduled to facilitate a training or run a workshop during Ramadan. You will need to educate yourself and stay very conscientious about the timing, the daily schedule, the activities, the catering—everything has the potential of sending subconscious or overt messaging to your audience about your subject or about entirely different topics! During Ramadan—people’s attention span naturally decreases. Typically, the amount of focus they can invest in a day of a workshopping gets diminished by 30%!

30% is too high a statistic to overlook. We must consider our participants’ needs and the internal and external “noise” (some of which is cross-cultural) that could be interfering with their ability to process the course content.

All these things have to be kept in consideration—so when you flip through a book of creative team-building exercises or suggested exercises for indoor workshop situations, or when you consider the lunch and snacks menus and your daily schedule—there are a lot of factors to consider depending upon your audience.

These are just a few practical examples, but there are countless nuances and countless applications in communication. It is important to ask these types of questions when you are invited to facilitate a workshop in an intercultural setting:

  • How do I prepare for this intercultural engagement?

  • How do I thoughtfully engage with this particular audience? With whom am I engaging?

  • What are my personal defaults when facilitating? Will those “work” with this group?

  • What are my weaknesses when it comes to engaging this audience rightly? Do I have any blind spots?

  • How can intercultural awareness inform my choices in terms of my content, technology, and adult learning / experiential exercises?

There are three important categories, or filters, to consider in preparing to facilitate interculturally:

The first filter is the personality side of the engagement. My behavior is influenced by personality, and the same goes for my audience. Understanding personality differences can help immensely in monocultural and intercultural communication. KnowledgeWorkx uses the DiSC profile to help people better understand what’s going on in the room, and what’s going on within themselves.

The second filter is the emotional filter; and for a facilitator, understanding Emotional Intelligence is incredibly important. What do you do with emotions? What’s acceptable in certain cultures when it comes to emotions, and how do you channel emotions appropriately—both positive and negative?

The third filter, of course, is the effects of intercultural factors on our behaviors and emotions. We must be aware of intercultural considerations in terms of the classroom dynamics or group dynamics in a workshop or facilitated series.

Future articles about facilitation and communication will flesh out more fully these three facets that affect intercultural facilitation and team-building so profoundly—the personality side of behavior, the emotional side of behavior, and the intercultural side of behavior. We will also share a number of very practical, pragmatic examples that experienced intercultural facilitators and global leaders have come across in terms of content, technology, and structuring of exercises, experiential activities, etcetera. Read Part 1 here.


Quickly becoming the global preferred choice for Inter-Cultural Intelligence development, KnowledgeWorkx promotes mutual understanding of other cultures and perspectives in the workplace, and helps teams to develop the intercultural capacity necessary to thrive in a globalized world.

KnowledgeWorkx will facilitate an ICI Certification Workshop.


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