Attuning to Cultural Differences
Understanding how cultural differences manifest themselves is crucial. While the nationality of individuals does not necessarily determine the attitudes and behavior they bring to a gathering, it can provide valuable guidance on facilitation strategies likely to be more successful over others. By becoming acquainted with the various culturally-grounded expectations of each participant, the facilitator can minimize misunderstandings and allow for more effective communication. It is critically important to remember that our own culture is largely invisible to others; our culture is simply our personal, “common sense” understanding of the world.
A common metaphor is used to illustrate the distinction between Western cultures (mechanistic, lifeless, rational paradigm) and non-Western cultures, particularly Pacific cultures (organic living, seamlessly related, chaotic paradigm). Effectiveness is determined in one case by engaging a mechanic, and in the other by using a gardener. A good facilitator knows the difference and knows when to engage either/or, or aspects of both. Being attuned to the group and its dynamics can help the facilitator choose or design more effective models, strategies, and intervention styles to achieve the desired goals or end results.
Managing Cultural, Gender, Religious, and Other Intangibles
Determining first-hand the cultural, racial, ethnic, gender, and religious composition of a group can help ascertain a general sense of intellectual and emotional orientation towards certain protocols and processes. These include decisions about the kinds of food to serve, sitting arrangements, praying, and other intangible, yet significant actions. Knowing beforehand as much about the group as possible is akin to knowing the reef system before sailing out to sea. Skillfully managing a process is knowing your reef system and navigating it accordingly.