We live in a permanently connected world where people are exposed to other cultures, languages and traditions. It is very common to work with colleagues from different backgrounds, nationalities and with different views with regards to business and interpersonal relationships.
We might think that, just because everyone speaks the same language, they will share the same views or feel the same way about behaviours and customs.
What to do before the event
To avoid unpleasant or uncomfortable situations, it is important to bear a few things in mind:
- Language barriers: do all clients share a common language? If not, will there be a translation system in place? Even if all clients speak the same language, avoid slang or cultural jokes – what might be fun for you could be offensive for someone else.
- Study the countries’ customs and professional practices: bear in mind the countries of origin of the attendees. What could be considered polite in Europe might be a real offence in China and vice versa. Do consider sending the programme and all related activities to a colleague sharing the same culture of the attendees – they will see if all activities are appropriated and will not be seen as offensive.
- Create protocols: something that varies enormously from country to country is punctuality. Do specify that meetings and activities start on the dot and that latecomers will not be allowed in the meeting room. By knowing what to adhere to, people are more likely to respect the rules.
What to do during the event
- Foster a sense of belonging: knowing their presence matters and that they are part of a global company will help overcome any cultural difference or misunderstandings. Promote a company culture that will supersede religious views, cultural differences or traditions.
- Encourage participation: in some cultures, people are very reluctant to speak up or engage a debate with a colleague, especially if the person has a higher rank or of advanced age. To avoid this, think about creating smaller groups of discussion and then nominating a speaker for each group. This way, everyone will present their ideas.
- Adapt the language: what is considered being direct in the South of Europe might be considered rude in Northern Europe and a lack of respect in South-East Asian countries. Try to soften the speech and adapt it to a wider audience, but do not dilute it. Some cultures do not like negative sentences or saying “I disagree”, because it might offend the interlocutor.
- Promote interpersonal relationships: a good way to minimise cultural tension in these type of events is encouraging attendees to get to know each other better, either on coffee breaks, working lunches or after-work events. Do create work groups with different nationalities in them to promote cultural exchange.
- Adapt the catering: when gathering a multicultural crowd you will be exposed to catering challenges. Do prepare well in advance different buffet stations: vegetarian/vegan, kosher and halal are the most known dietary requirements in larger meetings but do consider all attendees (including coeliacs) – everyone should be able to enjoy the same experience.
- Alcohol: in some cultures, the use of alcohol is linked to business meals – a glass of wine or a beer, for example. For others, mainly for religious or dietary reasons is a complete no. Do offer alcohol with good judgement and always have non-alcoholic options available.
If you are planning an event, do take all of the above-mentioned tips in mind but do not forget to adapt them to your event – each event is different and may have different needs. Do let us know if we can help you organise a multicultural meeting in the South of Spain – we’ll be glad to help.
Meridional Events is your local DMC in Andalusia and the South of Spain. Our team has lived and worked in 5 different countries and we speak 4 languages – we do know a bit about multiculturalism! We organise all kinds of corporate and MICE events, including meetings, incentives, conferences and even golf breaks in fantastic destinations such as Malaga, Marbella, Seville, Granada and the Costa del Sol. Get in touch with us.