You’ve researched the learning need. You’ve prepared a great curriculum with lots of great teaching points and terrific interactions, and the timing is excellent. Your material has been used before and been very successful.

In other words, you’re as well prepared as you could to have a great training session. However, 45 minutes into your session with a multicultural learning audience, you know you’re in trouble. Some of the participants are challenging your materials. Others are quiet and showing little evidence that they’re engaged with you. You’re reluctant to try your first interactive activity, because the audience is not responding in the way you are accustomed to. When you do start the activity, they look at you with blank stares.

What’s happening? You’re discovering that people from different cultures respond differently to presentations and training.

Fortunately, your co-facilitator has experience training across cultures. She recognizes that participants from some cultures may be quiet and uncomfortable by the enthusiastic challenges presented by colleagues. She starts to point out to the participants how cultures learn differently. The questions that appear aggressive to you are only enthusiastic participation, and the quiet is not disinterest but respectful engagement.

Why Is a Global Mindset Important for Multicultural Audiences?

Clearly, you cannot conduct training in today’s multicultural organizations without a global mindset and an appreciation about how different cultures learn. A global mindset is the ability to reflexively adjust to the cultural signals you receive so that your effectiveness isn’t compromised with dealing with people from other backgrounds and styles.

According to a survey by RW³ CultureWizard of almost 1,400 businesspeople from across the world, organizations that actively promote a global mindset are significantly more likely to achieve their global business objectives. With these realities, having a global mindset is critical not only for people working in global organizations but especially for people who train in global organizations. Fortunately, a global mindset is a learnable skill.

People Learn Differently

People from different cultures learn differently. For example, look at the differences between a first-grade classroom in the U.S. and one in China. In the U.S., children learn to speak and express their ideas by coming to the front of the class for “show and tell.” Sharing a personal object in front of classmates encourages public speaking and confidence in sharing subjective ideas with an audience. Seven-year-old American students are encouraged to ask their classmates and teachers questions, and teachers are happy to clarify and answer questions.

In China, students learn by listening and following specific directions from their teachers. For example, mastering the written Chinese language requires emulating the teacher’s exact stroke order. The repetitive written exercises to replicate Chinese characters promote mastery of an idealized style of writing. Chinese written characters are not deemed correct unless they are written in the exact same way. Children are not encouraged to ask questions, and the teacher isn’t expected to give an explanation of why they must write in a certain way.

Early instructional experiences translate to the vast differences we see in a training room with multiple cultures. The good news is that most training professionals already appreciate learning style differences and are eager to gain new competencies. Here are five tips to help your instructors train with a global mindset.

  1. Learn about yourself. Be aware of your own culturally influenced behavior, and be prepared to flex to the signals you receive from participants. Research what your audience expects to hear about your academic or professional credentials in relation to your subject matter. In some cultures, your credibility will depend largely on the credentials you present.
  2. Learn about your learners. Learn as much as you can about the instructional style participants will expect, based on both national cultural and corporate norms. Create a survey to gather insights, if possible.
  3. Discuss your style. When training across cultures, familiarize yourself with regional training styles. Early in your session, introduce your training style, and explain how it works in your home culture. Let participants know that you’ll try to “flex,” and ask them to do the same.
  4. Encourage participation. Avoid asking questions to the entire classroom. Instead, divide the room into pairs or small groups for discussion. Doing so will remove the pressure of having to speak spontaneously in front of the entire class.
  5. Encourage questions and comments. Create an easy way for people to ask questions by distributing notepads that participants can use to anonymously direct questions and comments to you.

5 intercultural characteristics

Reprinted with permission from RW3 CultureWizard