The Technique of Role Play in Intercultural Trainings

Bachelor Thesis, 2017

49 Pages, Grade: 1,0



1. Introduction
1.1. The Importance of Intercultural Competence
1.2. Purpose of the Report

2. Intercultural Training
2.1. Attrition and International Assignment Failure
2.2. Process of Enculturation
2.3. Development and Purpose of Intercultural Trainings
2.4. Basic Training Design

3. Theoretical Foundation of Role Plays
3.1. Description of Role Play
3.2. The Learning Process
3.3. The Implementation
3.4. Conditions for Effective Intercultural Training and Role Play

4. Role Play Games and Exercises
4.1. The Contrast-Culture Technique
4.2. Role Plays based on Cards: Barnga and Ecotonos
4.3. BaFá BaFá
4.4. The Albatross

5. Conclusion

I. Index of Figures

II. Index of Tables

III. Index of Literature

1. Introduction

1.1. The Importance of Intercultural Competence

Nowadays, many companies expand their operations abroad and the number of international fusions and acquisitions is steadily increasing. As well as the pressure to reduce costs. More than 50 percent of the global company’s revenues are not generated in their headquarters country, but abroad. Headquarters make the majority of global decisions regarding the assignment policy. One challenge is to fill international gaps of required managerial or technical skills.1 Consequently, the internationalization and globalization has a big influence to our working life, which has to deal with the cultural diversity in multicultural teams. Cultural diversity is seen as an opportunity, but can be challenging. Differences in cultural patterns of thought and in behaviours are not obvious such as differences in clothing, gestures and culinary traditions. These remarkable differences are even appreciated as exotic, while unrecognized differences can cause inefficient accomplishment of intercultural missions. Intercultural trainings are designed to improve interpersonal relations and interactions. Trainees have to develop an awareness of the underlying cultural characteristics such as values and assumptions.2 Therefore successful companies are those who are willing to invest in professional education in order to develop their intercultural competence.3 There is a lack of specific definitions of the concept of intercultural competence. The problem arises of the complexity of this concept and the difficulty to analyse all of its components. Experienced trainer prefer a less specific definition of intercultural competence since the definition has to work with all participants.4 One of the best accepted summaries of the main components of intercultural competence is the “Knowledge of others; knowledge of self; skills to interpret and relate; skills to discover and/or to interact; valuing others’ values, beliefs, and behaviours; and relativizing one’s self.”5 A high level of intercultural competence, is a required skill for everyone who wants to work internationally but it is even helpful for employees and managers who are located in their own home country, but have contact to people with foreign cultural backgrounds. Companies have good reasons not to underestimate the importance of intercultural competence. Studies have shown that the reason in 16 to 40 per cent of US expatriates who came home prematurely was related to cultural problems. Such as the managers´ families had problems adjusting to the new culture or the managers´ performance was inadequate. Consequently an insufficient preparation for overseas assignments can lead to business failures and is very costly.6

1.2. Purpose of the Report

This report has the purpose to illustrate the presence of cultural differences, which have a substantial influence on the individual´s communication, interaction and behaviour. The reason, why not everybody is aware of this differences, is that most of them are not obvious but subconscious. People become especially aware of their cultural rules, when someone behaves contravened. They see the verbal and nonverbal behaviour of others and interpret it with their own viewpoint of the world and evaluate the behaviour with rules of their own culture. Since the perception of individuals around the globe is very different, hidden cultural differences cause problems in communication, thus many misinterpretations, wrong assessments of another’s character and problems in relations.

Especially employees and executives who are assigned to missions abroad, or have to work and negotiate with alien people, have to face cultural hurdles. A low level of intercultural competence, contains a high risk of unsuccessful business operations for a company. Considering the increasing importance of intercultural competence and the increasing number of international assignments, an increasing number of companies offer intercultural trainings to their employees, executives and even to their families.

This report outlines the need of intercultural training, in order to avoid attrition and assignments failure. Firstly, it supports expats and employees in overcoming cultural shocks. Therefore, it describes the process of enculturation, which contains four stages an individual has to go through during a stay abroad. After stages of excitement and disillusionment follows the stage of cultural shock. It is the greatest challenge for an expat and the main reason for prematurely abandonments of intercultural missions. This is something, companies want to avoid, since it is related to high costs and unsatisfied employees and executives. To overcome the cultural shock is an auspicious goal, since the expat works in the last stage of adjustment more efficient than ever before.

First approaches of intercultural trainings were developed in 1970 in America and steadily extended. This paper describes the basic training designs and which instruments they use. The selection of training approaches always depends on the characteristics and specific goals of the training. It can be differentiated between culture-specific and culture-general trainings, didactic and experiential training approaches. The latter involves participants actively in the training and includes interactive instruments such as role plays and simulations.

The report focuses on the technique and nature of role plays in intercultural training approaches. It describes the theoretical framework of role plays. Since the technique belongs to the experiential learning approach, it is given a short overview on the process of experiential learning. Afterwards, basic steps to implement a role play are described. The implementation has to be well thought out and the trainer has to consider several steps, which influence the efficiency of the play.

The efficiency of role plays is difficult to measure, since there is a lack of clear definitions for the training´s goals and intercultural competence. In general, the training causes inner changes in the individuals, which are not visible to the instructor. Therefore, there is a lack of actual and reliable resources about the evaluation of role plays. Because of this, the report explains the ideas and practical applications of some of the most common role play approaches, and describes participant´s reactions.

With the careful analysis of all this components, this paper implements a basis for discussion about the technique of role play.

It addresses the issue, if role play is an appropriate intercultural training tool, which improves skills of intercultural competence, and if it is possible to increase a companies´ success by its application.

2. Intercultural Training

2.1. Attrition and International Assignment Failure

The reasons for the failures of international assignments are difficult to measure, but a mission abroad is usually seen as unsuccessful, in case of a premature abandonment. That means before the mission is completed. Nowadays an international assignment is also seen as failed, if the expat works less effectively abroad than in the home country. Some reasons that influence expats to discontinue their stay abroad are such as cultural shocks, the duration of the stay and the working environment, but also factors such as the support of the expat by the company.7

Since there is not even a consistent definition for failed assignments, references have strong distinctions in their assuming rates. Some even assume rates up to 50 percent.8,9,10 A survey, which was conducted in 2012 indicates a rate of 6 percent, while its historical average is at 5 percent. The participants were asked for the main reasons for a prematurely abandonment of a stay abroad. 11

Abbildung in dieser Leseprobe nicht enthalten

Figure 1: Causes of Assignment Failures.12

In China, 19 percent of the assignments fail and therefore, it is by far the country with the highest assignment failure rate. The participants of the survey named several reasons. Among them: “culture shock”, problems with the adaption of the culture, “cultural issues”, “cultural reasons”, a “difficult environment” and “language barriers”.13 China is followed by India and Singapore with 7 percent, United States with 5 percent, Australia and Kazakhstan with 4 percent. Saudi Arabia, Germany, Switzerland, Afghanistan, Hong Kong and Belgium have the lowest failure rate with 1 percent. In most of the countries, mentioned in the survey, cultural aspects are main reasons for assignments failure. Especially the significant problems of expats to adjust to China´s culture, have damaging consequences for global companies, since it is the location for 14 percent of all international assignments. Only the United States overcome China in locating 20 percent of international assignments.14

Unsuccessful assignments abroad can be very costly. The costs for a failed top-manager can even reach up to one million US Dollars.15,16 There are two kinds of costs, subdivided into direct and indirect costs. While direct costs are obviously seen in transactions, such as the price for flight tickets, wages and intercultural trainings, the indirect costs are not expressed in numbers but can be even more costly for a company. Therefore, indirect costs are unfavourable effects on the local staff that influences its commitment and hampers its productivity and discordances with host-government officials.17 Further examples are “damaged relations with host country organizations and customers, loss of market share and requests that PCNs [parent country nationals] be replaced with HCNs [host country nationals].”18

There are also consequences for the failed employee. Failed international assignments can cause a loss of self-confidence, can harm the reputation under his employees, motivation and cause familiar problems.19 A company can not influence all reasons for international failures but some, such it can try to prepare the employee to show an adequate job performance, to increase the emotional welfare of the partner and families and the ability to adopt to the new environment.

2.2. Process of Enculturation

Expats face most problems in the process of enculturation. Enculturation contains three factors. Firstly, the adaption of an unfamiliar way of working. Secondly, the adaption of a new environment and thirdly, an appropriate way of interaction and teamwork together with colleagues with different cultural backgrounds.20 The process of enculturation is demonstrated with an “U”-shaped curve that is shown in the following graph.

Abbildung in dieser Leseprobe nicht enthalten

Figure 2: Process of Enculturation21

The curve of the process of enculturation describes four stages. The first one is called honeymoon because the expat is amazed by the cultural differences and his mood is high. This stage has a duration of 3-6 weeks, but can even last sometimes up to three month. Particularly tourists remain in this stage. After the honeymoon follows the stage of the disillusionment in which the person loses a bit of their curiosity and foreign attractions lose their allurement. This process is shown by a downward curve of the enculturation process. The low-point of the curve describes the third stage, which is called “cultural shock”. Foreign influences, which are often misinterpreted are the reason for frustration and confusion and the low mood of the expat. Other symptoms are anger, less appetite, sleeplessness, stomach-ache and headache. The cultural shock is a normal reaction to a foreign environment but if a person is very affected, it can lead to the decision to discontinue the stay. After the shock is overcomed, a person adjusts to the new culture, has more positive emotions towards the foreign culture and performances more effectively than in all stages before. The mood is getting better and stabilizes.22,23

2.3. Development and Purpose of Intercultural Trainings

Already in the 19th century German philosophers and psychologists, such as Moritz Lazarus and Wilhelm Wundt, were developing the idea of folk psychology that considered cultural aspects as behavioural influencer. Caused by the Second World War, researches in this issue ceased until 1960, when Americans started to think about intercultural communication and to develop the first intercultural training approaches. Even the first intercultural training approaches were developed for international assignments of the U.S. military, up to date, most effort was made in business and industrial settings to train managers in the context of supervisory problems.24 Besides employees and executives, who have to leave their home country for international assignments, also marketing staff can profit from intercultural trainings. They are naturally confronted with the challenge to create advertising that is appropriate for foreign cultures. And also employees who are involved in international negotiations benefit from intercultural trainings.25 According to the definition of “intercultural training” its main purpose is the enhancement of the employees´ and executives´ efficiency during assignments abroad. But also at home, when having contact to people with foreign cultural backgrounds. This goal is achieved with the improvement of intercultural competence, thus in a change in the participant´s intercultural behaviour. This process is implemented through the impact of intercultural experienced persons, which enables participants of intercultural trainings to collect information about foreign cultures, to which they already are or are getting in touch with. 26,27

This paper focuses on intercultural trainings in companies, which are conducted for expats before and during their assignment abroad. In this aspect, intercultural trainings are initiated to prepare employees and executives for operations in unfamiliar markets and to help them to handle unfamiliar situations. Intercultural trainings explain possible impacts of cultures on individuals, nations and specific areas. Employees have to understand how the world is connected, the effects of the globalization, and in which situations ethical questions occur.28 Due to intercultural trainings, participants get insights into other cultures and become more understanding and reflecting towards their own cultural background. Intercultural trainings help them to reflect their own behaviour and the behaviour of others. These skills might help them to understand the reasons for similarities and differences in the people’s behaviour, even to value cultural differences and to be careful with interpretations.29 A high level of intercultural competence and a high awareness of cultural differences, lead to a better communication between people of different cultural backgrounds. Therefore, it helps to solve problems because it is easier for business partners to overcome barriers caused by misunderstandings. Another purpose of intercultural trainings is to increase the ability of decision making. For the reason that in intercultural situations, information is sometimes inadequate and it is necessary for the decision maker to trust in their feelings as much as in facts. Related to this point is also commitment. Trust, appreciation and confidence towards people of other cultures are the basics for a good interpersonal relationship, for a successful cooperation and an elaborate intercultural teamwork, which are essential factors for the success and cost-saving of international companies.30

2.4. Basic Training Design

Researchers were always concerned in which ways individuals acknowledge and the most effective ways to mediate information.31 It is very important for trainers to understand the different determinants that influence an individual´s behaviour and their characteristics.32 Typically, intercultural training sets its focus on andragogy, thus it is the most efficient way to mediate knowledge especially to adults. The training has to meet the individual´s preferences and needs for a successful learning process. This can be realized by an elaborated application of various approaches, which focus either on contents, on the impart of skills or the change of the trainees´ attitudes.33 Every person has individual strengths, weaknesses and cognitive skills. Determined through past and actual social experiences, individuals develop during their life an unique learning style. There is even the assumption that the occupation determines the individual´s preferred learning style.34 The ideal learning style is the learning method that enables the most effectively learning to an individual. Therefore, also intercultural trainers have to consider the learning styles of the participants and use different approaches to communicate information. Primarily it can be distinguished between two basic training approaches. Firstly, the didactic training method, which bases on theoretical information and facts that are mediated for example by lectures, videos and books. Secondly, the experiential orientated method.35 The experiential learning approach stands for the idea that the active experience of a foreign culture plays a central role in the learning process.36 Consequently, experiential learning approaches try “to introduce the nature of life in another culture by actively experiencing that culture (e.g. field trips) or a functional simulation of it”.37 With other words, the concept of experiential learning is to mediate knowledge about cultures through immediate experiences. The experiential learning style involves trainees actively as participants and consists of “activities that are designed to confront the trainees with situations that may be encountered in a foreign culture. Trainees then react to the situation intellectually, emotionally, and behaviorally.”38 Experiences have shown that especially young people, under 40 years, prefer “learning by doing” and therefore the interactive, experiential learning approach. Older participants usually prefer the didactic education approach, which provides a more systematic process of learning. It also depends on the national background of the participants, which learning style they prefer. While people from modern industrial societies usually prefer the interactive learning style, people from traditional cultures mostly prefer the didactic learning style.39 This coherence between culture and learning style is explained by the dependence of an individual´s success on its cultural system. An individual always has to adjust to the environmental requirements and expectations in order to be successful.40

When designing an intercultural training, the trainer has to decide, if it concentrates either on the didactic or experiential teaching methods. Trainers also can put their focus on culturespecific or culture-general learning contents. In culture-specific trainings, participants are getting prepared for a stay abroad in a specific country, while in culture-general trainings, participants are sensitized for general intercultural situations. Consequently, there are four different options that can be the basic for the intercultural trainings´ design:41

1. Experiential-culture general
2. Experiential-culture specific
3. Didactic-culture general
4. Didactic-culture specific

Each of the four training approaches require the usage of specific instruments.42 The table below summarizes the instruments that are mainly used in the intercultural trainings. And also their advantages and disadvantages.

Abbildung in dieser Leseprobe nicht enthalten

Table 1: Instruments of Intercultural Training.43

The table above, already gives an overview and illustrates the main characteristics of role play. It can be used in culture-general and culture specific trainings. Since they actively involve participants in the training process, it belongs to the experiential training approach. The following chapter goes more into detail with the technique of role play in intercultural trainings.

3. Theoretical Foundation of Role Plays

3.1. Description of Role Play

Role play can be defined as “a range of activities characterized by involving participants in ´as if´ or ´simulated´ actions and circumstances.”44 It is an experiential training approach, thus it gives participants the chance to experiment with or to experience a situation from a different viewpoint in assuming the manners, behaviours and opinions of another person.45 The technique of role play is used for clinical and therapeutic reasons: for example in case of psychodramas, for psychological treatment and social skill trainings.46 But it finds also application as training tool in various occupational fields. This includes intercultural training programs in companies for their executives and employees. As already mentioned intercultural trainings help them to integrate in new cultures and to operate in multicultural teams. Role play is a culture-specific training tool, thus it prepares employees and executives for assignments in specific areas. It has the purpose to practice an appropriate behaviour in intercultural situations, to handle problems and to improve skills of intercultural interaction. It is not precluded to apply role plays also in culture-general trainings. Role plays are semi-structured simulated situations, which have the purpose to induce learning experiences. The participants are actively involved and assigned to different roles. How detailed the roles are described differs, but usually there is no script provided, only a generalized description of the role.47


1 Cf. Brookfield Global Relocation Trends Survey (2012), pp. 21-22.

2 Cf. Foster / Danielian (1966), p.5.

3 Cf. Schrangl / Zumbach (2012), p. 71.

4 Cf. Deardorff (2006), pp. 241, 247.

5 Byram (1997), p. 34.

6 Cf. Vance / Ensher (2002), p. 447.

7 Cf. Dowling/Welch (2005), pp. 86, 90-91.

8 Cf. Apfelthaler (1999), p. 104 (translated).

9 Cf. Landis / Bhagat (1996), p. 2.

10 Cf. Scullion (1995), p. 362.

11 Cf. Brookfield Global Relocation Trends Survey (2012), p. 64.

12 Brookfield Global Relocation Trends Survey (2012), p. 64.

13 Brookfield Global Relocation Trends Survey (2012), p. 64.

14 Cf. Brookfield Global Relocation Trends Survey (2012), pp. 34, 65-66.

15 Cf. Landis / Bhagat (1996), p. 2.

16 Cf. Apfelthaler (1999), p. 105. (translated)

17 Cf. Dowling / Welch (2005), p. 89.

18 Cf. Scullion (1995), p. 362.

19 Cf. Dowling / Welch (2005), p. 89.

20 Cf. Adler (2002), p. 262.

21 Adler (2002), p. 263.

22 Cf. Adler (2002), pp. 263-265.

23 Cf. Apfelthaler (1999), pp. 107-108 (translated).

24 Cf. Foster / Danielian (1966), p.5.

25 Cf. Gudykunst / Hammer (1983), p. 143.

26 Cf. Brislin / Landis / Brandt (1983) p. 3.

27 Cf. Grove / Hallowell (2002), (accessed 19.07.17).

28 Cf. Berninghausen (2009), p. 1.

29 Cf. Deardorff (2006), p. 247.

30 Cf. Harrison / Hopkins (1967), pp. 435-436.

31 Cf. Yardley-Matwiejczuk (1997), p. 5.

32 Cf. Brislin / Landis / Brandt (1983). p.3.

33 Cf. Kohl (1980), pp. 86-87.

34 Cf. Kolb (1984), p. 76-78.

35 Cf. Brislin / Landis / Bradt (1983), p. 9.

36 Cf. Dewey (1938), pp. 19-20.

37 Brislin / Landis / Brandt (1983), p. 9.

38 Gudykunst / Hammer (1983), p. 124.

39 Cf. Berninghausen (2009), p. 9.

40 Cf. Hofstede (1986), p. 305.

41 Gudykunst / Hammer (1983), p. 118.

42 Cf. Gudykunst / Hammer (1983), p. 118.

43 Cf. Knapp / Berry (1999), p. 322. Bolten (2001), pp. 8-10 (translated).

44 Yardley-Matwiejczuk (1997), p. 1.

45 Cf. play (accessed 08.08.2017).

46 Cf. Yardley-Matwiejczuk (1997), pp. 15-34.

47 Cf. Foster / Danielian (1966), p. 5.

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The Technique of Role Play in Intercultural Trainings
Schmalkalden University of Applied Sciences
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intercultural training, intercultural communication, role play
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Isabella Zottmann (Author), 2017, The Technique of Role Play in Intercultural Trainings, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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