The value of clashes in intercultural communication
Faculty of Business and Economics, Monash University
Paul Kalfadellis is a senior lecturer in the Department of Management at Monash University. His teaching areas focus on international business. He therefore tries to internationalise his curriculum with the goal of having taught students skills and lessons that they can use when they return to their home countries.
Paul utilises group work as a key strategy to allow students to share ideas and investigate problems from the perspectives of different countries. He does not allow students to self-select groups, as they will naturally select peers from the same cultural background. This could lead to group think, which is antithetical to allowing students to see global issues from perspectives that are different from their own. In Paul’s experience, students have given very strong positive feedback about having the opportunity to work in these multicultural groups. They express an initial discomfit, which eventually transitions into an understanding of the benefit of working together with people from different cultural backgrounds.
Paul highlights the value of cultural clashes. When students from different backgrounds have a disagreement on a particular issue, this disagreement can lead to a moderated discussion which, in Paul’s experience, ultimately leads to greater communication and understanding between domestic and international students. He does note, however, the importance of body language and other non-verbal communication cues in this process. This means that such discussions are more valuable when done face-to-face compared to online, where non-verbal communication is minimal and perspectives are more prone to misunderstanding.
Paul structures his group work so that students share the individual benefits they have received. Each group is assigned a different country. The group is then asked to consider a solution to a particular global issue from the perspective of that country. The students within that group may not be from that country, in which case they have to research that country’s perspectives and views on similar issues. When there are students from that country within the group, they are able to share their views with the rest of the group. In this way, all students within the group benefit from learning about another culture’s perspective. At the end of the class, each group is required to present their solution to the problem they were given. Not only do the students within each group get to learn about another country’s perspective, but they also learn about each of the other country’s perspectives too. They then get the opportunity to discuss with each other and ask questions.