Making the case for mindfulness in intercultural training

May 9, 2018  · by

Man stands at large screen full of data

Topics: Coaching, Intercultural profession, Return on investment, Training

Intercultural trainers have a number of tough challenges that we’re tackling in this article series. One of these challenges is building the business case.

The problem is that we too often fail to get leaders, organisations, HR colleagues and clients excited by the opportunities from intercultural competence. We are not succeeding in demonstrating the true value of intercultural training. It’s the challenge of selling intercultural training.

Highly-engaged man
Communicating the many benefits of intercultural training

Participants in intercultural training may expect to walk away with some answers. Intercultural training provides answers which are sometimes difficult to grasp and seemingly impossible to quantify when transferred into the workplace.

For a Learning and Development manager, the outcomes of intercultural training may be a hard sell internally.

When participants arrive at a training, they may not be expecting to commit to a new mindfulness task in their already-busy schedule for the coming weeks or months. Like everyone, training participants have the challenge of finding time/space to implement mindfulness.

Fortunately, mindfulness adds to the long list of benefits of intercultural training. Here are some that can help you build your business case for a mindfulness-enhanced intercultural training programme.

Better results in international work

There is now an increasing body of evidence around the cost of mindless business operations:

  • Bad decision-making
  • Mistakes
  • Oversights
  • Knee-jerk reactions

Meanwhile, mindful managers are different from their colleagues. Mindful managers are no longer responding inappropriately to the situation because some colleague has triggered them. They are able to avoid more mistakes in intercultural situations and generate a positive result where others are suffering confusion, frustration or conflict.

Business realism

Perhaps most powerful benefit of mindfulness when making the case, is the licence to recognise reality. We do not expect participants to say “diversity is a 100% good thing for me”, and “I love cultural differences and always enjoy working with our foreign clients”. Mindful intercultural training comes at this from a different angle.

The mindful intercultural training session allows the negative as well as the positive responses to come out. Honest negative, positive and mixed emotions are our starting point for getting skilled at dealing with future cross-cultural tensions, and turning emotional flashpoints into an on-going series of insights and tests passed.

Pleasant feelings

The list of benefits includes pleasure. There is a lot of pleasure to be unlocked from cultural difference, if you allow yourself. Imagining a world where diversity really brings fun, fascination, discovery, opportunity, without many of the familiar frustrations is a very attractive idea to many people.

This is not oversell, because mindfulness is not about eliminating the downsides. Instead mindfulness is about accepting and gaining insights and strength from cultural difference. And yes, it promises to unlock more pleasure for people working in globalised environments, leading to more successful international projects and completed expatriate assignments.

Many more personal benefits

People who use mindfulness techniques report a heightened state of involvement, better memory and attention levels and a greater feeling of being present in the moment. The training and the techniques are not cold and calculating.

Mindfulness often brings a greater liking for the task, and by extension, more happiness from intercultural projects. In short, it makes intercultural work more satisfying and fun.

Mindfulness-enabled intercultural skills

Mindful employees may be better at

  • coping with intense stress and tests of endurance
  • accepting new ideas, driving innovation
  • empathising with people who are different
  • adapting to new situations
  • recognising their own biases and blindspots
  • reading cultural signals
  • improving self-knowledge and comparison

For organisations, mindfulness has been shown to increase employees’ openness to new information and improve problem solving through awareness of multiple perspectives. Applied to intercultural competence training, the list of potential mindfulness-enabled skills is impressive.


More on mindfulness and culture

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