What happens in BaFa’ BaFa’?
After an initial briefing two cultures are created. The Alpha culture is a relationship oriented, high context, strong ingroup outgroup culture. The Beta culture is a highly competitive trading culture. After the participants learn the rules of their culture and begin living it, observers and visitors are exchanged. The resulting stereotyping, misperception and misunderstanding becomes the grist for the debriefing.
What does BaFa’ BaFa’ teach?
The BaFa’ BaFa’ simulation is often used to introduce the notion of cultures then follow up with a discussion and analysis of specific cultures and the way they are formed.
Betans speak a “foreign” language made up of a combination of vowels and consonants. It is easy to learn and use but difficult to understand if one doesn’t know the rules governing its use. When Alphans come to the Beta culture and hear the language they are often intimidated by it and withdraw from the culture creating an impossible communications barrier. Others are able to make themselves understood very easily with gestures, sign language and facial expressions. Each of these reactions creates excellent opportunities to discuss and analyze the particular communication process under scrutiny. For example, what is the effect of the specialized language used by data processing people, engineers or finance people when people from all parts of a company come together to achieve a common goal? How should the salesperson react when clients use acronyms, initials and words which he or she doesn’t understand.
Many instructors and trainers use BaFa’ BaFa’ to help students understand how stereotypes of other cultures, departments, companies or occupations get formed and perpetuated. “They’re cold, greedy, all they do is work” are some of the words which Alphans use to describe the Betans. The Betans on the other hand, come to believe the Alphans are “lazy, unfriendly to outsiders, and don’t like females.”
As in life, such stereotypes make it difficult for people to work together effectively. Unlike life, however, the simulation gives participants an opportunity to analyze and discuss how such stereotypes are formed as well as methods for overcoming their negative effects.