Three top tips for engaging Emiratis in training and facilitation environments

Cultural differences are found everywhere in the UAE – it’s a fact of life, right?

Assuming culture is like an iceberg, we only see a small visible part of what many of us describe as ‘culture’ – dress, language, architecture, customs, behaviour, etc

Much of what supports that small visible, explicit thing we call culture is defined, metaphorically, by what we cannot see, what lies under the water…

This hidden part – beliefs, norms and values, and core assumptions about life and death which make up our complex genetic and acquired imprint – are rarely noticed or even understood by visitors to the region.

Adopting an essentialist viewpoint (our cultural makeup is fixed and unchangeable) therefore is dangerous when we realize that individual differences, the one person standing atop the iceberg, can be greater than the weight of cultural factors supporting him/her.

With this caution in mind, and after twenty years of working in the region, much of it in training and facilitation, I would like to share my three top tips for trainers or facilitators engaging Emiratis in training or facilitation environments.

Top Tip #1 – encourage group bonding, first together, and then with you. I do this with book-end slides showing a group of Emiratis – at the start with “Eftah galbeck” (open your heart) and at the end of the day, with “Al Khatimah” (the end). I ask them to report how they are feeling and to declare anything else that may affect their participation in the workshop. At the end of the day, I repeat the first question and substitute the second with an opportunity for them to declare any final thoughts.

Top Tip #2 – set demanding but interesting tasks that require group discussion, resolution, and presentation. Swap the informal group leaders for each task to ensure ‘group-think’ and ‘lurkers’ are minimized. Visit each group during the task, prodding and probing to ensure maximum engagement by everyone on the table.  Use humour sensitively, sparingly.

Top Tip #3 – stop talking. Using colourful slides and interesting group-based tasks, switch the focus from you to them. Ask questions, elicit answers, lead from behind, disappear…

If you want to learn how to be more effective in this setting, go to