Humility Leads To Cultural Competence

Companies spend thousands of dollars on consultants and subject matter experts in an attempt to define their company’s “culture”. They come up with mission statements, vision statements and elevator pitches, but forget to talk about their people and how they’re treated… how the company’s culture is ultimately determined by how they embrace all of the different cultures that are within it.

working_together_teamwork_puzzle_conceptHow leadership view the differences and commonalities of their employees affect how work is done, how decisions are made, the tones that are set, and the type of atmosphere employees must work in. For an organization to establish or improve upon a culture, they must first recognize differences within the organization, be willing to accept and adapt to them, and factor those in to the strategic vision and mission of the company.

A few weeks back I had the pleasure of attending a training to become a certified administrator for the Intercultural Development Inventory (IDI), a theory-based tool that assesses intercultural competence—the capability to shift cultural perspective and appropriately adapt behavior to cultural differences and commonalities.

Before I could attend the 4-day training, I was required to take a 50-question assessment that asks how I would or how I have reacted in situations that involved people from cultures other than my own. What I didn’t realize is that the assessment was going to give me two reports…one that told me how I saw myself, and another that actually told me where I was in the continuum as it related to my ability to accept others and how I viewed our differences…or if I even recognized that there were differences.

Now I’ll be honest, I hate taking things like this as I don’t need it in writing just how jacked up I am. But the reports initiated great conversation. While a lot of our discussion centered on the issue of race, I realized just how biased we all really are when it comes to our differences and commonalities, and most of the time we aren’t even aware of the bias.

Before we can make people understand our companies, we must first understand how we view people…so that we can really see people for who they are. This self-awareness can be truly humbling, as the assessment caused me to realize that I’m not as tolerant, open-minded or accepting of others as I’d like to think. Admitting that our views of others isn’t always fair, I believe, is the first step to progress, enabling us to move past all of the surface-level stuff and work towards the common goals with new insight and perspective.

idc_figureAccording to the tool we used for the assessment, people range from Denial – avoiding or withdrawing from cultural differences altogether, to Adaption – being able to shift cultural perspective and changing behavior in appropriate and authentic ways.

From the debriefing, I “re-learned” that HR’s goal (I’m included) when assessing where leaders and employees are, especially regarding intercultural competency, isn’t to:

  • Psychoanalyze them
  • Change them
  • Judge them
  • Tell them that they are wrong for feeling or thinking a certain way

It’s to practice and promote reflection and self-awareness, as once we understand why we see things the way we do, we will better prepared to move forward keeping these factors in mind when making impactful decisions and interacting with employees and clients.


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