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Conducting the
Intercultural Meeting
GaryAlthen,TheUniversityofIowa
IowaCity,Iowa,USA
Purposeandlearningobjectives
Intercultural meetings can be less frustrating, more productive, and even educational if the
participants understand the culturally based dynamics of their interactions. The exercise here
is intended to help people become aware of the assumptions and customary behaviors they
and others bring to meetings and to help them begin to think about ways to conduct meetings
that are most likely to draw on the potential contributions of everyone present.
Targetaudience
This activity can be used with any group of people who, even occasionally, participate in
meetings with people from other cultures. It requires at least 10 people who must represent
two or more cultures (the more cultures the better). It can be done with as many as 100 people.
Time
The Intercultural Meeting requires at least 60 minutes and can easily and productively use 90
minutes or more.
Materialsandenvironment
One copy of Handout 1, “Scenario for an Intercultural Meeting,” for each participant in
the meeting
One copy of Handout 2,“Observation Sheet,” for the other participants.
The Intercultural Meeting uses a “fishbone” arrangement. Arrange 6 to 10 chairs in a cir-
cle at the center of the room (with or without a table). The remaining participants will sit
in a larger circle around those in the center.
50ActivitiesforAchievingCulturalCompetency
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Procedure
1. Decide which participants will play each of the roles in the scenario. In making these
assignments, strive to have as much cultural variation as possible. Age and gender differ-
ences can also be considered, but cultural differences should be the focus.
2. Seat role-players in the center or front of the room and the others where they can see the
role-players and hear what happens.
3. Give copies of Handout 1 to those in the inner circle.
4. Give copies of Handout 2 to the others.
5. Read the scenario aloud to everyone in the room, and then tell the people in the intercul-
tural meeting to begin, while the observers watch. Sit silently while those in the center of
the circle begin their meeting and watch the interaction along with the observers. It may
take a while for them to get started.
6. After 10 or 15 minutes, gently interrupt the interaction, thank the meeting participants,
give copies of the observation sheet to those who have been in the meeting, and begin to
debrief.
Debrief
The debriefing is mainly intended to draw out cultural differences, but trainers can also
attend to group dynamics and even individual development. Sometimes one person will take
over the meeting and impose his or her will, or at least try to do so. Sometimes competition
for leadership will develop, and nothing of substance will be discussed. At other times, all
participants will seem hesitant to speak up, let alone try to advance a viewpoint or interest.
Draw on whatever happens to bring out the points you consider important for reaching your
learning objectives.
Use the questions on the observation sheet. Choose the appropriate ones, depending on what
happens in the group. Also, depending on the nature of the group, the trainer might want to
modify the observation sheet questions.
Address the questions first to those who were in the meeting. Then ask for comments from
people in the outer circle. After going through the first three questions in this manner, ask
those within the circle a question like this: “If you were having this meeting only with people
from your own country, would there be a leader? If so, who would it be?” Address the same
question to people in the outer circle. If appropriate, offer examples from your own intercul-
tural experience or from previous intercultural meetings to highlight differences in assump-
tions and meeting behaviors.

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