Employees of public authorities and research institutions come into contact with people from different cultural backgrounds every single day. This is where misunderstandings may arise, not only because of language barriers, but also because of different cultural backgrounds. Communicative customs and strategies may vary from country to country.

Since 2014 we have been organizing a range of intercultural training sessions to help overcome such communication barriers in conversations between employees from Germany and guest researchers from abroad. What is special about these intercultural training events is that they also provide an opportunity for administrative employees from the different research institutions, such as the Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research, and from the different municipal authorities to get to know each other and discuss their views on intercultural communication. This is why these events focus very much on the exchange of experiences on the part of the participants. One participant remarked: “The more we know about other cultural areas, the easier it is to understand why our conversation partner sometimes reacts differently to how we expect. This is what makes this training event very useful.”

The intercultural training events for German employees aim to raise their awareness of German communication and behavioural patterns compared to those of other countries. In this way, it is possible to develop communication strategies for difficult situations and give each participant new ideas for how to communicate. The two professional intercultural trainers who lead the training sessions use case studies, simulations and changes of perspective. The participants themselves can thus learn using their own experience as well as expertise obtained from the many interactive components of the training session.

The first training event focuses on intercultural communication in general. The second one allows participants to choose regions and countries which interest them personally. “The participants address us with specific concerns: How can we start talking to people from other regions? What obstacles are there and how can we overcome them?”, explains intercultural trainer Karin Köcher. The participants are given the opportunity to learn more about the culturally specific dimensions of the home countries, religions and regions of the people they encounter through their work on a daily basis.