14th IACCM Annual Conference 2015 and 7th CEMS/IACCM Doctoral Workshop (by Peter M. Nielsen)

Attending the IACCM and SIETAR Austria conference in Vienna in October was both interesting and inspiring. There was a lot of talk about needing to focus on moving away from people’s country profiles and using nationality as an identifier. There were also workshops focusing on differences between generation X and Y/millennials, in particular how the millennial generation is already culturally competent, hinting at perhaps putting less importance on cultural education.

While I agree with the need to look beyond nationality as an identifier, and hope that we practitioners already do so when we facilitate, I am still not convinced that we have moved so far in cross-cultural competence as to warrant a complete change in how we look at culture. As this change in focus is linked specifically to the millennials, I will also allow myself to question whether the millennials are indeed generally culturally competent. I believe it takes a lot more than a semester or two abroad in a university setting to become truly culturally competent.

However, what I see as much more important is how we practitioners bring our skills and ourselves into the training room. One of the presentations at the IACCM conference, led by Doris Hartl, was on how we can use mindfulness in cross-cultural settings. In her session Doris Hartl offered that in our rationally determined and skills-focused intercultural environment we tend to neglect one crucial aspect: emotions. We look at cognitive and behavioural dimensions, but may forget to explore and examine the underlying emotions, especially those of our present participant(s). The inclusion of a mindfulness-based approach into our trainings initiates self-exploration, and with the assistance of a competent practitioner it allows individuals to fully connect with their self-constructed universe of thoughts and emotions – conscious as well as (previously) unconscious ones. Thus, if used carefully and consciously by the practitioner, mindfulness serves as an effective dimension in the training room.

The presentation on mindfulness resonated strongly with me because it really drove home the importance of being more than a facilitator when dealing with people in transition. Can we as practitioners say that we don´t judge or stereotype? Are we constantly questioning the questions we get, taking a step back and trying to understand the underlying cultural foundations or emotions behind these questions? Is my response to these questions founded in my own cultural make-up? Are we able to practice the art of “non-judgmental awareness” which is at the heart of mindfulness?

Interestingly, after Doris Hartl’s session I went to a workshop where the facilitator’s clear lack of mindfulness led to less than favorable outcomes for some of the participants, because she was more keen on sticking to her agenda rather than “feeling” the room and meeting the participants where they were – which in this case was in an emotional state far from ideal. She simply left them hanging. And I left the conference convinced that mindfulness could well be considered as an integral part of intercultural competence, especially if we make sure we introduce it in our training rooms.

Peter Nielsen is an experienced cross-cultural facilitator and coach working primarily with expatriates, partner coaching, as well as cross-cultural group facilitation. Peter is from Denmark and has lived in Switzerland since 2002. Peter’s company is called CoachingOurGlobe.

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