Carina Bauer, CEO of the IMEX Group talks national differences and cultural sensitivity
Conferences, meetings and events have long been highly regarded as vehicles for bringing people together, often from many different countries and cultures, and uniting them to do business, network and learn.
Communication is a key component of this and herein lies the potential stumbling block. When we communicate with others, is what we hear ourselves say, the same as the other person hears and understands? Often it’s not.
You can see how this might cause problems in a meeting – whether big or small. The motivating American CEO may have the opposite effect on his European colleagues who might perceive a motivational talk as ‘over-the-top’. A Finn who thinks in silence before expressing an opinion might perceive a more talkative Southern European colleague to be untrustworthy if they offer their opinion too quickly.
A session designed for interactive feedback could make some Asian cultures very uncomfortable. And when it comes to us Brits, many other nationalities find it difficult to read between the lines of our dialogue – often our polite but indirect responses can be misleading and far removed from the plain speaking of other cultures.
Communicating across cultures can be challenging. Each culture has patterns of behaviour and while some of a culture’s knowledge, rules, beliefs and values are taught explicitly, most of the information is absorbed subconsciously, with cultural imprinting often beginning from an early age.
Recently, the entire IMEX team took part in a day of cross cultural training, and even within our team our cultural profiles were radically different. Not just a result of our nationalities, but also that of our parents’ and grandparents’ nationalities alongside other factors such as education, upbringing, etc.
Although no two people belonging to the same culture are guaranteed to respond in exactly the same way, a knowledge of the different cultural traits certainly provides useful clues to dealing with members of a particular cultural group. Learning to work with each other day to day, to communicate effectively and to ensure that the IMEX events are culturally sensitive to the thousands of people attending from 100 different countries is crucial to our success.
Indeed, it’s crucial to any conference and meeting organiser. As increasingly diverse sets of people work together and attend meetings and events together, it’s up to us – the organisers – to ensure that we are sensitive to their different needs. It’s our job to ensure that the content of the meeting is as successful as possible – that people leave having learnt something, collaborated and are more motivated. We can only achieve these goals if the meeting or event delivers a personalised and culturally sensitive journey.
IMEX in Frankfurt takes place 19 – 21 April. For more details visit www.imex-frankfurt.com