Throughout her 17-year career helping staff members of corporations, organizations, and educational institutions learn how to best communicate and lead, Sabine Amend has continually been surprised by how many experienced professionals have never really thought about how they run meetings.
“Good or bad meetings are not surprises that drop from the sky,” she says. “How a meeting goes has a lot to do with how well you prepare, how you think, and how you communicate.”
Amend teaches this in the Master of Science in Corporate and Organizational Communication program.
“My students are professionals from a broad range of backgrounds,” she says. “Social workers, corporate staff from different industries, journalists moving into communications management, teachers moving into administration, dancers moving into arts management. It is so enjoyable that the age range and professional experience in this course is really quite diverse.”
One of the two courses that Amend teaches is Meeting Management, a hands-on class where students—some from other Northeastern graduate programs, such as project management or leadership—practice facilitation skills and meeting preparation in addition to studying group dynamics. They work on case studies, taking on different tasks they need to accomplish within a series of meetings that address the challenges of an international organization. Discussion topics include how to best communicate internally as an organization and whether or not to use English as the corporate language.
“This class is very well-received because it is so concrete and immediately applicable in the workplace,” Amend says. “Students tell me they are already using at work what they are practicing in the class just two or three weeks into the term.”
Amend also teaches Intercultural Communication, which she considers an essential skill in the modern workplace. It’s there where students are invited to reflect on how their own behaviors may impact their cultural sensitivity.
“I try to make it a transformative experience for my students,” she says.
Identifying Students’ Cultural Backgrounds
In addition to gaining a conceptual understanding of the topic, students also keep a journal where they can reflect upon their own experiences as intercultural communicators. Self-awareness, says Amend, is key, so that students can analyze their own behavior and see the impact of their own cultural conditioning on how they approach a situation.
“We have international students, first or second generation students from Latin America and Asia who are often balancing a bi- or multi-cultural identity, and students from different parts of this country,” Amend says. “Some of the students from the U.S. start by saying they don’t really have a cultural background. And then the differences from one region of the U.S. to another start to appear, which, coupled with the diversity of the class, help students realize that they do indeed have a cultural background. It’s fascinating.”
Students Share Real-Life Cultural Challenges in the Classroom
Students are encouraged to share real-life experiences in the classroom. One student talked about the personal challenges he faced as a first generation immigrant to the U.S., who is married to a woman of a different ethnic background; their views on the role of meals, food, and family were quite different. Others shared the challenges they face at work when trying to ascertain the appropriate amount of assertion or directness to use in communication, especially as leaders. Some in the education field shared the differing expectations that parents of different backgrounds bring to the educational process.
“I weave theory, analytical skills, and the ability to self-reflect throughout the course,” Amend says. “So that my students can move into a higher level of inquiry around differences and gain a higher level of self-awareness of where they are and who they are as intercultural communicators.”
Amend knows firsthand what it is like to live and work with people from different cultures. Born in Germany, she has lived in the United Kingdom, China, and the U.S., earning a bachelor’s in Chinese Studies from the University of London’s School for Oriental and African Studies and a master’s in European marketing management from Brunel University London. She is currently a PhD candidate in social sciences at The Taos Institute in Colorado, where her research focuses on embodied leadership, including the mind-body connection and the role of movement in change processes.
In the summer of 2016, Amend also served as a visiting faculty member for the Global Leadership Program at Northeastern’s partner university, Swinburne University of Technology, in Melbourne, Australia. While there, she taught Managing Organizational Culture to a group of students she describes as “highly international and diverse.” Through the process, explains Amend, she was able to facilitate a broadening of students’ views on leading and organizing.
“I really enjoy teaching at Northeastern,” Amend says. “I love working with adult learners who are professionals, because you can leverage the experience they already have for meaningful learning. We have a wonderful balance of theory and practice in the program. With such experienced students, we can really work toward developing more reflective and well-rounded practitioners.”