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What is Cross Cultural Training?

What is Cross Cultural Training?

The increase in cultural diversity within many countries due to immigration, resettlement and other factors combined with the evolving demands of globalisation have led to an increase in the need for cross cultural training.

Although such training is common within business, certain global industries, academia, diplomacy and other areas of public and personal life, it is still fairly unknown in terms of how it works.

To try and bridge that gap, we have answered some of the more frequently asked questions about cross cultural training.

What is the definition of cross cultural training?

No formal definition of cross cultural training exists, perhaps pointing to its sometimes rather broad interpretations and applications. However, overall most attempts to define this field of training agree on similar points, namely that it is any sort of training course that focuses on aspects of culture and cultural differences.

The term 'cross cultural' explicitly refers to any sort of interaction where more than one culture is involved. Many interpretations see this as relating only to national cultures, i.e. American, Chinese, Korean, etc although technically it can refer to any sort of cultural difference, say regional, generational or company culture.

The majority of formal, commercialised cultural training focuses on cross cultural differences in business, such as etiquette, communication or leadership. Other cross cultural training can take place in the public sector, say for those working in/with diverse communities, as well as in the military, NGOs, hospitality and sports.

Simply put, cross cultural training means any training that helps people overcome cultural challenges in work or in life when interacting with others whose culture, values and beliefs we are not fully aware.

Why is cross cultural training important?

The benefits of cross cultural training are many.

It helps people overcome bias and prejudice which could potentially stop them making good decisions. It improves communication skills and softer skills such as emotional intelligence. It increases trust between people as it helps break down barriers.

It increases sales by helping business people how to put their best foot forward when entering a new market. It helps people get along and concentrate on more important matters such as a Doctor giving the right diagnosis, a negotiator getting that sought after signature or a charity worker showing the correct respect when doing aid work in random parts of the world.

What are different approaches to cross cultural training?

There are many different approaches when it comes to the content, delivery and ethos being cross cultural training. This fundamentally comes down to context, i.e. who is the training for, why, when and how? The training course a group of high flying business leaders in the USA require is going to be very different to that of a group of engineers travelling to Nigeria for the first time.

Content can vary a lot between cross cultural training courses, educators and vendors. Many incorporate teachings from the likes of academics such as Hofstede, Trompenaars and Hall who each developed their own theories on how and why cultures differ. This training usually takes the form of looking at ‘the other’, i.e. the rationale being that if we can study and understand ‘their’ behaviour and actions then we can have strategies to deal with them.

Other training may take the opposite approach in stressing that first one must understand ‘the self’, i.e. why you do what you do (not what others do). The idea behind this approach being more about realised empathy and developing cultural awareness through emotional intelligence.

Who needs cross cultural training?

Who doesn’t?

What are the different types of cross cultural training?

There are many types and variations of cross cultural training. Sometimes they come under different names such as Intercultural Training, Cultural Competence, Diversity Training or Cultural awareness. They can be very close in look, feel and content or can be very different depending on whether they are pre-designed training courses or bespoke solutions.

Generally cross cultural training can be divided into two different areas - Country focused vs Skill focused. Country focused training will only look at one (or a few) culture, i.e. Chinese, Japanese, Turkish. The content will look at specific areas of the culture whether that be etiquette, communication or negotiation.

Skill focused training on the other hands is a more generic type of course which looks at areas such as communication, management, persuasion, leadership, negotiation, sales, etc and then addresses cultural differences within that framework. There very well may be country specific information or there may not, as these courses are more about developing rounded skills as opposed to focusing on one culture.

How does cross cultural training take place?

Traditionally most training took place in a face to face training environment such as a training room. This is still very much the case however it is much more common today for online training, webinars and e-learning to be used.

What are cross cultural trainers?

A trainer who runs a cross cultural programme will be someone who is an expert in one or many aspects of cross cultural communication. They may either be a country expert, i.e. someone who has lived and worked in another country, or a skills expert, i.e. someone with hands-on management, presentation or negotiation experience.

With a background in business (or the public sector) and formal education in intercultural communication, cross cultural trainers provide learners with both practical and academic insights into the topic. Interested in becoming an intercultural trainer?

How long does cross cultural training last?

How long is a piece of string? Training can be as short as 30 minutes or as long as 3 days. The length of the training is usually determined by budgets, the time and practicality.

The majority of face to face training takes place over the course of a day, online usually is in 2 hour chunks.

How much does cross cultural training cost?

As above – it all depends on what you want and how you want it.

A simple, off-the-shelf training course will naturally be a lot less than a tailored training course involving meetings, research and design.

Where do I find cross cultural training?

There are providers of cross cultural training within the private sector as well as sometimes through NGOs, public bodies and government initiatives.


A study in 2017 predicted the cross cultural training sector will grow 15% by 2021 driven by demand to support employees working in multicultural environments. It also highlights the top 5 global training vendors who are all examples of where to find such training.

 Any more questions? Send them our way!

 

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