What exactly do Interculturalists do?

How do you explain what a cultural trainer, coach, or mentor does? This is a question I had some difficulty answering throughout the first years of working in this field. And to be completely honest, to this day some members of my own family don’t quite understand what the work of interculturalists consists of. It isn’t only the “uninitiated” who struggle to see the value of intercultural work. The real challenge of our profession is being able to present the benefits of acquiring cultural competence to potential clients. Call it the “you don’t know what you don’t know” syndrome.

A few years ago this question produced an extensive conversation in the SIETAR Europa group on LinkedIn. Many professionals weighed in on the prompt to post their 30-second elevator pitch for intercultural work. My answer eventually made it into a simple comic. 
Let me caution you, though, when trying to use this pitch in a global context. It won’t work in every culture. Fellow trainer Bill Reed points out that “in several Japanese companies I know, it is explicitly forbidden to speak in an elevator.”

And David Patterson reminded the group that elevator pitches don’t necessarily trigger positive responses in German-speaking cultures: “For example, has anyone else ever tried doing an Anglo-Saxon style presentation e.g. (‘I have copies of the market research detail for those who would like to study it at their leisure, here are the key highlights for your decision’) to a German audience of senior management? Doesn’t play well at all – you need to demonstrate your professional competence by showing us the work you have done and being ready to answer detailed questions on your methodology and recommendations.”

To a certain extent I agree with David – some cultures find the very idea of an over-simplified message suspect or untrustworthy. But here’s a caveat: Even in Germany you need to establish rapport as you get the ball rolling on a business conversation. Very few people will be keen on sitting through an elaborate 30-minutes (or longer) sales pitch, if you fail to establish common ground and if you can’t interest your counterpart in what you do/sell.
We put together 9 tips on how to improve your communication with Americans which highlight some of these principles. To get your free copy of this white paper please subscribe to our newsletter here.

Yes, explaining the details of our work can be cerebral and academic.
And we can choose to keep it simple, sweethearts:
We help people work better together across cultures.

This brings me back to the initial question: What exactly is it that interculturalists do?
You can post your answers in the comments below. Can you do it in 30 seconds? Go!



P.S.: The comic is now also available in a Spanish translation, thanks to Marcelo Baudino who adapted it for the SIETAR Argentina blog.



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Comments 1

  1. “Mostly, I help people to work more effectively with Japanese/Korean/Chinese companies. And then I help the Asians to work better with you” (assuming a European/Western questioner).
    Imperfect but easy and most people seem to get the idea. 🙂

    By the way, I wrote a report on the poor monocultural/monolingual state of UK management training back in 1988. I referred then to the international English that most international business people used as Offshore English. It’s still a label that works. I spend a lot of time teaching UK/US/Australian managers to learn Offshore English.

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