Are you working as an online facilitator and have experienced a different dynamics in groups from Asia? This article offers a first hand experience and a range of practical tips on driving session dynamics (if this is what you want) in Asian groups.
My typical groups are mixed
I usually work with groups of mixed national background. A typical virtual workshop group of mine would consist of people coming from a range of countries, a range of continents. I had the great luck of meeting a bunch of participants from every continent! 😃 That’s quite a natural scenario for large organisations aiming to get the same leadership standard across the globe, or for sessions of cross-cultural cooperation where we explore what is similar and what different across cultures.
Sometimes, this mixture is positioned within one single continent. Some of my mixed groups were for instance only from Europe, others were only from US, or only from Americas. In the recent years, I have also started working with purely Asian groups.
What are Asian groups?
Well, Asia is a huuuuge continent with a lot variety of countries and cultures, and certainly there is no single type experience here. But I have come across some Asian groups which were particularly quiet in my online sessions, and I have been both experimenting and looking for advice how to drive interaction.
Are you curious what I have found out? 🤩😵😄
7 tips on how to drive participant contributions in groups from Asia
Let’s have a look!
Which sounds the best for you? Please share in comments under 👇👇👇 the article!
Tip 1: Offer written participation as an easy option
Countries in Asia have various history, various exposure to English as a working language, and various schooling systems. In a number of cases, the sounds of English as a language are technically very difficult to produce by some non-English mouths (well, they were also challenging for me when I was learning English as a teenager!). On top of it, some countries put a lot of attention on education in writing, and less on speaking. As an outcome, quite some of my Asian participants speak with unease… but give very good contributions in writing!
Practical approach: offer written participation as an easy option. You might do it by asking a question to the group, like “What have you learned from this experience?”, “What is your insight here?”, “What do you think happened here?” (e.g. after watching a video), and ask for contributions in the chat.
Ask a question to the group, like “What is your insight here?”, and ask for contributions in the chat.
This approach would probably be disliked by my US-American groups where people usually prefer to speak than write. Asian groups are different. Writing feels good, and it has an additional advantage: it offers insights into many answers in a short time.
The only trick which I needed to learn is the waiting time. Sometimes the seconds until the first answer appears take long… Well, I have learned to endure 😉
But sometimes, the silence is a sign that you have asked a wrong question.
Tip 2: Ask yes-questions (or open questions)
In some Asian cultures, a “No” answer is considered inappropriate or rude, and would be avoided at all cost. Therefore, asking questions that would be meant to bring No-type-replies might mean going the dead end street. Many of these questions might sound completely innocent to us, like “Do you understand?”. I have crossed this one out, don’t ask this one! In many countries and cultures, answering a “No” to this question would be a sign of disrespect, blunder, an act of careless self-exposure, or anything else you might imagine. A No-answer should never come.
So, why to ask this question at all? I suggest to smartly reach your goal and check e.g. “What questions do you have around this?”, or, on the other hand
“What have you found especially interesting?” (then explain again the parts which they did not mention)
– and again, ask all the group to answer in chat.
Tip 3: Use other forms of interaction (e.g. emojis)
Interaction is not just speaking and / or writing. You can run a very interactive session basing on various emojis and symbols, available in most online platforms like Zoom or Teams. I especially like the green ticks or thumbs up (depending on which platform you use) – there are extremely easy to activate in your online workshop! A piece of advice I got from a Japanese facilitator:
Please click a raised hand icon if you could understand my explanation of exercise and it is okay to move forward.
This way, you ✔get the whole group involved, ✔do not expose someone’s fluency in speaking or writing ✔get the feedback and interaction you need!
Tip 4: Use simple language
I need to tell you the truth: sometimes, it’s not about groups from Asia! Sometimes, it is the elaborate vocabulary, speedy speaking or a strong accent of a native speaker that drives the intelligibility low. This is where my advantage as a non-native speaker of English is well exposed: with international English, no slang or jargon, and neutral accent, I am usually very well understood by international audiences.
In cultures where making a mistake is perceived as an error (!), a native speaker running the workshop might be perceived both as a point of reference (to look up to) and as an intimiditing factor.
The more simple you speak, the easier it will be for other non-natives to follow. All international audiences (including Asians) will appreciate that.
Leave your erudite skills for Tolkien fan club discussions 😉
By the way, a similar hint applies for instructional videos or online content: do make sure that you have provided subtitles to any video content. An advantage which I always appreciate!
Tip 5: Invite people by name
Facilitating a session in cultures like Italy, Germany, US, or Spain, you might wonder how to stop the discussion rather than how to start it! 😉 On the other hand in Asia, personal encouragement is very welcome.
In Asia, personal encouragement to speak is very welcome.
I was working with a Malaysian – Indonesian group of team leaders, struggling to get their contributions. My initial fearful (and wrong!!!) assumption was that they came unprepared, or that they were not involved. Luckily, I soon asked a specific participant to speak. I was smashed! How clever, how insightful, how interesting this contribution was. One, more, and yet another, but every time I needed to invite the next person to speak, by name. They were just waiting for me to invite them to share. I will remember this lesson 🧡 for all my future groups.
As a facilitator, you might be perceived as a person regulating the interaction, including the sequence of speaking. If you invite a participant to speak, they will know that it is the right time to speak. Let the treasures unravel 🌷
And after they have shared and insight, an observation, an opinion, please make sure that you…
Tip 6: Give appreciation and praise!
Some reasons why participants from Asia might be reluctant to speak might be a low level of confidence, or reluctance to say something that would be inappropriate (or perceived inapropriate). Some participants will just second people which they know will speak and remain silent most of the time. In many cultures, people lack giving Appreciation.
This gives space for a little modelling: do celebrate every contribution! Give praise and applaud!
Do celebrate every contribution!
A colleague facilitator from Asia even gets the whole group clap for the speaker! Now, I never did that… but I am thinking to try it out, too 😃 Thanks to such positive modelling, next participants might become more courageous to contribute, too 🧡
There is also a little tip for you as a facilitator.
Tip 7: After all, don’t be too hard on yourself.
Some people are just unwilling to speak, whatever the culture, whatever the session.
Some participants in online sessions are currently facing issues at home, and are simply unable to focus. The “real” reality around them is so much stronger than the online workshop. The baby cries, and it’s a fact regardless of your facilitator skills. You know what I mean?
Some participants have low connectivity and they struggle to remain connected. Contributing seems out of reach.
Some participants might be still getting used to online experience, and becoming more proactive when comes to replying and speaking up.
I have learned all that the easy and the hard way!
Luckily, there are some angels that I can follow in my online sessions.
The angel of curiosity. Always curious to learn new things about the training, the people, the possibilities.
The angel of courage. Taking the courage to ask for feedback or advice. I ask participants (usually a 1 or 2 participants who I have observed as especially willing to contribute) and my trainer, facilitator, producer colleagues.
The angel of experience. With experience, every next time becomes a bit easier.
And it opens space for new discoveries.
I hope you can find them next to you, too!
What are your best tricks and tips of working with online groups, regardless the continent? Please share some of your wisdom with me and other readers here in this portal 👇👇👇 below!
I truly enjoy what I do. Online workshops give so many possibilities to build insight, understanding, and cohesion. Love to do it with teams and organisations from across the world 🧡 My areas are leadership, cross-cultural cooperation, and thriving in virtual spaces. You have a project we could do together? Happy to hear from you! What works best are Signal, WhatsApp 👇, and my LinkedIn profile.