How do you explain the work of an interculturalist?

If you read this blog you probably know that I work in the intercultural field. While I really enjoy my job as a trainer, coach and consultant, it isn’t always easy to explain to others what this line of work consists of. The “uninitiated” rarely have a feel for what we interculturalists do. This became even more apparent to me after seeing a discussion in one of the LinkedIn groups I’m following. Vanessa Shaw posted a question in the SIETAR Europe group called Competence in intercultural professions that prompted me to post a comment. Vanessa asked: “What’s your elevator speech to explain the intercultural field? The term ‘intercultural’ is still not known widely – how do you describe the ‘intercultural field’ to others in a quick elevator speech? I’m trying to formulate a more concise answer myself, and it’s hard to narrow it down.” This was my answer: IC elevator pitch1 IC elevator pitch2 Going by the number of “likes” I received for this suggestion, I suppose my 30-second pitch might also work for others in the field. However, I caution everyone when trying to use it in a global context. It simply won’t work in every culture. My other favorite line is: I help others build solid transatlantic bridges. As Bill Reed remarked in the conversation: “In several Japanese companies I know, it is explicitly forbidden to speak in a lift (an elevator).” And Paul Miles is also correct when he says: “In countries where English is a second language, ‘I’m an interculturalist’ would be met with a blank expression.” David Patterson, who I assume is British, also reminded me that elevator speeches aren’t always well received 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.” Of course, David is right about the differences in presentation styles – some cultures find the idea of an over-simplified message dubious or untrustworthy. But here’s the thing: Even in Germany you have to initiate a business conversation at an entry level. Nobody will listen to your elaborate 30-minutes (or more) sales pitch if you can’t interest them in what you are doing/selling. Which brings us back to the initial question: What is it we interculturalists do? You have 30 seconds. Go!

ch (April'14).2Christian is a cultural trainer, coach, and consultant with extensive experience in working with multinational companies and especially in developing global leaders. He is the President and CEO of The Culture Mastery, LLC, where he leads a team of dedicated training, destination services, and expat support specialists. Christian works with global organizations (or those who are going global) to help their employees overcome cultural differences. Typically he only uses the word “normal” in quotation marks and he is an advocate for helping people understand the why of behaviors – not just the dos & don’ts. Most just call him “The Culture Guy”. Find out more about Christian here and follow him on Twitter. You can also see him, listen to him, and experience his work – just invite him!

12 thoughts on “How do you explain the work of an interculturalist?

  1. Where’s the “Like” button? Well put. I feel like one myself, even though I’ve sadly never had the chance to live abroad. However, I would revise Paul Miles’ comment above to include primarily English speaking countries too. No way could you use the term over here without having to explain yourself (at least to anyone outside academia and at snooty cocktail parties 🙂

  2. I like your answer Christian and you are right about initiating a business conversation with strangers. It is clear that in the US time is money and people will stop listening to your and walk away if you don’t catch their attention in less than 3 minutes . In other “introverted” cultures such as Japan, people may pretend listening to you for 30 minutes as it is considered rude to interrupt people when they talk, but in reality they will probably find you boring and even arrogant.

    I like your cartoon because we can replace the word “interculturalist” with anything and it shows that it is important to be minimalist in what you tell initially so people who are interested may have the chance to ask questions. Great post !

    • Not sure if there’s a standard procedure for that. My take is: Be “fluent” in at least two cultures, have working and living experience in at least two cultures, speak the languages of at least to cultures, know about the differences between these cultures, and be able to explain them.

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  7. Wow! I would love to do what you do!! I grew up as an American in the Netherlands, where my parents worked in an international church and in refugee communities. Most of our problems today in the world boil down to cultural differences and misunderstandings.

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