Intercultural trainers provide an invaluable service, not only for expatriates but also virtual project teams, multicultural teams in the UK and global leaders. We have interviewed Cathy Wellings of The London School of International Communication to give you an insight into the importance of Cultural Training.
How did you become an intercultural trainer?
I have always been fascinated by other cultures and countries. I studied modern languages and taught English as a foreign language in Spain for five years. Back in London I continued teaching and managing courses which gave me exposure to a wide range of cultures and nationalities. I started working at a training consultancy managing language training programmes and we realised that the challenges our clients experienced when working overseas or as part of international teams weren’t always language related. Often it was more about culture. I discovered a whole new world of intercultural communication through working with other trainers, attending training events and reading the literature. It all helped to make sense of the challenges I had experienced when living in France and Spain and working with international clients. We started developing courses in response to our clients’ challenges. Initially we worked mostly with expatriates and their families but then also began to support regular business travellers and global teams.
What do you enjoy about your job?
I love the fact that I get to work with such a diverse range of interesting people from all around the world. The training we deliver can really open people’s eyes to the importance of understanding and then adapting to different working style and behaviours when working internationally. It’s great when you see that ‘light bulb’ realisation when people understand where a frustration is coming from and how they might be able to solve it.
Who are your typical clients?
Our clients are extremely diverse as we support any organisation that work across borders and cultures – and these days that’s most of us. This year we have worked with clients in the manufacturing, publishing, technology, charity, financial services and education sectors as well as government departments, at home and overseas. The individuals we work with are not only expatriates but also virtual project teams, multicultural teams here in the UK and global leaders.
What does an average training day with you look like?
Although we have our own training centre, we most often deliver training at the client’s premises or even in their home if training is for an individual or couple. So the average training day might start with a train journey or breakfast in a hotel before getting set up and meeting the participants for the first time. It’s very important to us that our clients feel safe and comfortable sharing their experiences and so we usually start with a fun icebreaker so that people can get to know each other and share some of their international experiences. Our training programmes are interactive so while we share intercultural frameworks as well as our own insights and experience, the main focus is on applying the frameworks to the clients’ own context and helping them to develop strategies for responding and adapting to cross-cultural situations. We talk about how values and attitudes have an impact on how people behave, prioritise and communicate, particularly in the work place. So we’ll discuss things like management styles, attitudes to time and deadlines, team work, planning, and of course, communication.
Where do your clients come from?
We have supported expatriates from France, Germany, Sweden, China, Japan coming into the UK and have also supported overseas managers moving to other countries including a French manager relocating to Japan, and a Vietnamese moving to Bangladesh. Many of our clients are British professionals working with global teams and clients or with teams in specific markets such as India or Japan.
What are the most asked questions you have about living in the UK?
Without a doubt the most frequently asked question is ‘Why don’t they say what they mean?!’ but it does depend on their own cultural background; in the same week I have been asked ‘Why do we have to do all this small talk?’ by one group and ‘Why doesn’t anyone say hello in the morning?’ by another group! Often it’s the practical things that people find strange so here in the UK people have asked about carpets in the bathroom or separate hot and cold taps.
The benefits of your service are clear, what have your clients told you about how it has helped?
I am always really pleased when clients tell me that they have become more reflective about their own style and how they come across. Self- awareness is essential when working overseas. Clients regularly comment on the practical things they take away from our training; the tips and tricks that they can implement the next day and see an immediate impact on the way they interact with their international counterparts.
Contact details: London School of International Communications
0207 605 4189