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Intercultural competence


(Inter)cultural competence is the ability to communicate effectively and appropriately with people of other cultures:

In interactions with people from foreign cultures, a person who is interculturally competent understands the culture-specific concepts of perception, thinking, feeling, and acting.

Intercultural competence is sometimes also called "cross-cultural competence" (3C) although there is a tendency to use the former for the intercultural contact and the latter for comparison between cultures.

Cultures can be different not only between continents or nations but also within the same company and even within the same family. The differences may be ethical, ethnic, geographical, historical, moral, political, or religious.

The basic requirements for intercultural competence are empathy, an understanding of other people's behaviors and ways of thinking, and the ability to express one's own way of thinking. It is a balance, situatively adapted, among four parts:

Cultural incompetence in the business community can damage an individual's self-esteem and career, but the unobservable psychological impact on the victims can go largely unnoticed until the threat of a class action suit brings them to light.

Notice that some definitions emphasize the knowledge and skills needed to interact with people of different cultures, while others focus on attitudes. A few definitions attribute cultural competence or a lack thereof to policies and organizations. It's easy to see how working with terms that vary in definition can be tricky.

In an attempt to offer solutions for developing cultural competence, Diversity Training University International (DTUI) isolated four cognitive components: (a) Awareness, (b) Attitude, (c) Knowledge, and (d) Skills.



  • Appropriately. Valued rules, norms, and expectations of the relationship are not violated significantly.
  • Effectively. Valued goals or rewards (relative to costs and alternatives) are accomplished.
  • Knowledge (about other cultures and other people's behaviors)
  • Empathy (understanding the feelings and needs of other people)
  • Self-confidence (knowledge of one's own desires, strengths, weaknesses, and emotional stability)
  • Cultural identity (knowledge of one's own culture)
  • A set of congruent behaviors, attitudes and policies that come together as a system, agency or among professionals and enable that system, agency or those professionals to work effectively in cross-cultural situations.
  • Cultural competence requires that organizations have a defined set of ethics and principles, and demonstrate behaviors, attitudes, policies, and structures that enable them to work effectively cross-culturally.
  • Cultural competence is a developmental process that evolves over an extended period. Both individuals and organizations are at various levels of awareness, knowledge and skills along the cultural competence continuum.
  • Awareness. Awareness is consciousness of one's personal reactions to people who are different. A police officer who recognizes that he profiles people who look like they are from Mexico as "illegal aliens" has cultural awareness of his reactions to this group of people.
  • Attitude. Paul Pedersen's multicultural competence model emphasized three components: awareness, knowledge and skills. DTUI added the attitude component in order to emphasize the difference between training that increases awareness of cultural bias and beliefs in general and training that has participants carefully examine their own beliefs and values about cultural differences.
  • Knowledge. Social science research indicates that our values and beliefs about equality may be inconsistent with our behaviors, and we ironically may be unaware of it. Social psychologist Patricia Devine and her colleagues, for example, showed in their research that many people who score low on a prejudice test tend to do things in cross cultural encounters that exemplify prejudice (e.g., using out-dated labels such as "illegal aliens" or "colored".). This makes the Knowledge component an important part of cultural competence development.
  • Skills. The Skills component focuses on practicing cultural competence to perfection. Communication is the fundamental tool by which people interact in organizations. This includes gestures and other non-verbal communication that tend to vary from culture to culture.
  • role of women in the family and the decisions they can make
  • practices among cultural groups (e.g. fire cupping)
  • symbol systems among cultural groups (see semiotics)
  • Collectivism
    • Interdependence of every human;
    • Reverse of individualism;
    • High priority on group than individual;
    • Collectivist cultures include Pakistan, India and Japan.
  • Individualism
    • moral worth of individual;
    • promote the exercise of one's goals and desires and so value independence and self-reliance;
    • advocate that interests of the individual should achieve precedence over the state or a social group;
    • Liberalism, existentialism and anarchism are examples of movements that take the human individual
  • Masculine
    • characteristics or roles appropriate to, a man;
    • Opposite can be expressed by terms such as "unmanly'" or epicene.
    • Masculinity pertains to societies in which social gender roles are clearly distinct
  • Feminine
    • set of attributes, behaviors, and roles generally associated with girls and women;
    • made up of both socially defined and biologically created factors;
    • Traits traditionally cited as feminine include gentleness, empathy, and sensitivity.
    • Femininity pertains to societies in which social gender roles overlap.
  • Uncertainty avoidance
    • reflects the extent to which members of a society attempt to cope with anxiety by minimizing uncertainty;
    • uncertainty avoidance dimension expresses the degree to which a person in society feels uncomfortable with a sense of uncertainty and ambiguity;
    • Countries exhibiting strong Uncertainty avoidance Index or UAI maintain rigid codes of belief and behavior and are intolerant of unorthodox behavior and ideas. Weak UAI societies maintain a more relaxed attitude in which practice counts more than principles;
    • People in cultures with high uncertainty avoidance tend to be more emotional. Low uncertainty avoidance cultures accept and feel comfortable in unstructured situations or changeable environments and try to have as few rules as possible;
    • People in these cultures tend to be more pragmatic, they are more tolerant of change.
  • Power distance
    • people in some cultures accept a higher degree of unequally distributed power than do people in other cultures;
    • high power distance culture the relationship between bosses and subordinates is one of dependence;
    • low power distance society the relationship between bosses and subordinates is one of interdependence;
    • People in high distance countries tend to believe that power and authority are facts of life
  • Chronemics:
  • Monochrone
    • time-fixed, "one after the other”
    • Doing one thing at a time
    • Involved with doing the job
    • Time commitments taken seriously
    • Follows plan
    • Deals with short-term relations
    • Narrow focus
    • Lower risk tolerance
    • Self-reliant ethic
    • Sequential tasks
    • Positional power
  • Polychrone
    • Many things at the same time, "multitasking". Also called "long-term orientation."
    • Involved with family, friends, customers
    • Commitments in time mean little
    • Changes plan
    • Builds lifetime relationships
    • Big picture
    • Higher risk tolerance
    • Networking focus
    • Simultaneous engineering
    • Charismatic leadership
    • Intuitive
    • Error-tolerant system
  • Structural characteristics:
  • Interdependence of every human;
  • Reverse of individualism;
  • High priority on group than individual;
  • Collectivist cultures include Pakistan, India and Japan.
  • moral worth of individual;
  • promote the exercise of one's goals and desires and so value independence and self-reliance;
  • advocate that interests of the individual should achieve precedence over the state or a social group;
  • Liberalism, existentialism and anarchism are examples of movements that take the human individual
  • characteristics or roles appropriate to, a man;
  • Opposite can be expressed by terms such as "unmanly'" or epicene.
  • Masculinity pertains to societies in which social gender roles are clearly distinct
  • set of attributes, behaviors, and roles generally associated with girls and women;
  • made up of both socially defined and biologically created factors;
  • Traits traditionally cited as feminine include gentleness, empathy, and sensitivity.
  • Femininity pertains to societies in which social gender roles overlap.
  • reflects the extent to which members of a society attempt to cope with anxiety by minimizing uncertainty;
  • uncertainty avoidance dimension expresses the degree to which a person in society feels uncomfortable with a sense of uncertainty and ambiguity;
  • Countries exhibiting strong Uncertainty avoidance Index or UAI maintain rigid codes of belief and behavior and are intolerant of unorthodox behavior and ideas. Weak UAI societies maintain a more relaxed attitude in which practice counts more than principles;
  • People in cultures with high uncertainty avoidance tend to be more emotional. Low uncertainty avoidance cultures accept and feel comfortable in unstructured situations or changeable environments and try to have as few rules as possible;
  • People in these cultures tend to be more pragmatic, they are more tolerant of change.
  • people in some cultures accept a higher degree of unequally distributed power than do people in other cultures;
  • high power distance culture the relationship between bosses and subordinates is one of dependence;
  • low power distance society the relationship between bosses and subordinates is one of interdependence;
  • People in high distance countries tend to believe that power and authority are facts of life
  • time-fixed, "one after the other”
  • Doing one thing at a time
  • Involved with doing the job
  • Time commitments taken seriously
  • Follows plan
  • Deals with short-term relations
  • Narrow focus
  • Lower risk tolerance
  • Self-reliant ethic
  • Sequential tasks
  • Positional power
  • Many things at the same time, "multitasking". Also called "long-term orientation."
  • Involved with family, friends, customers
  • Commitments in time mean little
  • Changes plan
  • Builds lifetime relationships
  • Big picture
  • Higher risk tolerance
  • Networking focus
  • Simultaneous engineering
  • Charismatic leadership
  • Intuitive
  • Error-tolerant system
  • 1. Stavans, I. (1995) The Hispanic Condition: Reflections on Culture and Identity in America. Harper Collins
  • 2. Sea, M.C., et al. (1994) Latino Cultural Values: Their Role in Adjustment to Disability. Psychological Perspectives on Disability. Select Press CA
  • 3. Anderson, M. Moscou, S. (1998) Racism and Ethnicity in Research on Infant Mortality, Methodological Issues in Minority Health Research. Family Practice, Vol. 30#3,224-227
  • 4. Krieger, n. et al. (1993) Racism, Sexism, and Social Class: Implications for Studies in Health, Disease, and Well-being. American Journal of Preventive Medicine. Supp. to Vol. 9#4,82-122
  • 5. Macaulay, A.C., el. al. (1999) Responsible Research with Communities: Participatory Research in Primary Care. North America Primary Care Research Group Policy Statement.
  • 6. Hayunga, E.G., Pinn, V.W. (1999) NIH Policy on the Inclusion of Women and Minorities as Subjects in Clinical Research. 5-17-99*Mercedes Martin & Billy E. Vaughn (2007). Strategic Diversity & Inclusion Management magazine, pp. 31–36. DTUI Publications Division: San Francisco, CA.
  • Nine-Curt, Carmen Judith. (1984) Non-verbal Communication in Puerto Rico. Cambridge, Massachusetts.
  • Anderson, R. C. (1984). Role of the reader's schema in comprehension, learning, and memory. In Learning to read in American schools: Basal readers and content texts (pp. 373–383). Laurence Earlbaum Associates.
  • Blanchett, W. J., Mumford, V., & Beachum, F. (2005). Urban School Failure and Disproportionality in a Post-Brown Era. Remedial and Special Education, 26(2), 70-81.
  • Chamberlain, S. P. (2005). Recognizing and responding to cultural differences in the education of culturally and linguistically diverse learners. Intervention in School & Clinic, 40(4), 195-211.
  • Moule, Jean (2012). Cultural Competence: A primer for educators. Wadsworth/Cengage, Belmont, California.
  • Staton, A. Q. (1989). The interface of communication and instruction: Conceptual considerations and programmatic manifestations. Communication education, 38(4), 364-372.
  • http://www.adph.org/ALPHTN/Default.asp?DeptId=143&TemplateId=3780&TemplateNbr=3 (video) Building Cross-Cultural Partnerships in Public Health, Alabama Department of Public Health
  • http://gucchd.georgetown.edu/nccc/ National Center for Cultural Competence at Georgetown University
  • http://www.nasponline.org/culturalcompetence/ National Association of School Psychologists
  • http://www.gov.bc.ca/bvprd/bc/search.do?navId=NAV_ID_-8379&action=searchresult&qp=&nh=10&ministry_search=0&ministry_search=1&qt=competency%20assessment%20tool Competency Assessment Tool From Ministry for Children & Families, Government of British Columbia
  • http://www.aoa.gov/prof/adddiv/cultural/CC-guidebook.pdf Achieving Cultural Competence guidebook from Administration on Aging, Department of Health and Human Services, United States
  • http://www.med.umich.edu/multicultural/ccp/tools.htm University of Michigan Program For Multicultural Health
  • http://www.xculture.org Cross Cultural Health Care Program
  • http://www.centre4activeliving.ca/publications/wellspring/2006/oct/oct06.pdf Diversity in Practice: Becoming Culturally Competent
  • http://www.thinkculturalhealth.org Bridging the Health Care Gap through Cultural Competency Continuing Education Programs
  • http://sherwoodfleming.com/the-intercultural-cost-of-silence/ What is the Cost of Intercultural Silence?
  • Stuart, R. B. (2004). Twelve Practical Suggestions for Achieving Multicultural Competence. Professional psychology: Research and practice, 35(1), 3.
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