Description of the Developmental Continuum
This page discusses the theory about intercultural expertise that is the fundamental basis for IDI.
The Intercultural Development Continuum (IDC):
- Explains how people, groups, or entire organizations tend to think and feel about (their mindset regarding) diversity and cultural difference
- Provides the basis for matching coaching and development to the readiness of an individual, group, or organization
- Helps individuals and people in groups or entire organizations work more effectively with people from other cultural backgrounds
IDC is a five-stage developmental progression of increasingly-complex perceptions of diversity and cultural difference. It was developed by Dr. Mitchell Hammer.
IDC is an advanced adaptation of the earlier Developmental Model of Intercultural Sensitivity (DMIS) created by Dr. Milton Bennett. Both IDC and DMIS are based upon years of direct observation and research.
IDC provides a structure for understanding people experience (i.e. tend to think and feel about) diversity and cultural difference.
- Less complexity indicates a more monocultural mindset. The individual may be aware of visible aspects of diversity and cultural difference. There is relatively little understanding of the deeper aspects of other peoples' differing beliefs, values, behavioral tendencies, thought patterns, and resulting styles. The perception of others will tend to be in broad categories, perhaps characterized by stereotypes.
- Greater complexity indicates a more intercultural mindset. The individual understands the deeper aspects of diversity and cultural difference including deep insight into their own cultural identity and that of other people. There will be a strong appreciation for the value this brings to a group or organization. Some individuals will develop the ability to shift their perspective. This involves actually seeing, to some extent, a situation from another cultural perspective in the way that someone from that other culture would see the situation.
Each of the five IDC orientations describe how a person sees, thinks about, and interprets events happening around them from an intercultural-difference perspective. The orientation also, therefore, suggests what they do not see or consider.
IDC, therefore, highlights and explains how a person’s cultural patterns both guide and limit their experience of diversity and cultural difference. This is why IDC is so relevant to how people work together in the workplace. Working with people involves communicating with them individually or in teams or groups.
The IDC theory says that cultural sensitivity and cultural differences represent a potential obstacle or benefit in developing relationships and communicating effectively with other people.
IDC is central to productivity, innovation, creativity, agility, and safety (PICAS)!
The five stages of IDC, illustrated below, represent a set of orientations or mindsets with successively greater ability to understand and have a more complete experience of cultural difference.
Briefly, some characteristics of each stage are:
- Denial. Being comfortable with the familiar. Not anxious to complicate life with “cultural differences”. Not noticing much cultural difference around you. Maintaining separation from others who are different.
- Polarization: Defense. A strong commitment to one’s own thoughts and feelings about culture and cultural difference. Aware of other cultures around you, but with a relatively incomplete understanding of them and probably fairly strong negative feelings or stereotypes about some of them. This may lead to some distrust of, and a tendency to be judgmental about, cultural behavior or ideas that differ from one’s own.
Polarization: Reversal is the opposite of Defense. The person feels that some other culture is better and tends to exhibit distrust of, and be judgmental of, their own culture.
- Minimization. Aware that other cultures exist all around you, with some knowledge about differences in customs and celebrations. Not putting down other cultures. People from other cultures are pretty much like you, under the surface. Treating other people as you would like to be treated. A tendency to assume you understand the situation the same as a person from another culture.
- Acceptance. Aware of your own culture(s). See your own culture as just one of many ways of experiencing the world. Understanding that people from other cultures are as complex as yourself. Their ideas, feelings, and behavior may seem unusual, but you realize that their experience is just as rich as your own. Being curious about other cultures. Seeking opportunities to learn more about them.
- Adaptation. Recognizing the value of having more than one cultural perspective available to you. Able to “take the perspective” of another culture to understand or evaluate situations in either your own or another culture. Able to intentionally change your culturally based behavior to act in culturally appropriate ways outside your own culture.
Denial and Polarization are considered “ethnocentric” or monocultural in that one’s own culture is seen as the only culture or to varying extents the “better” culture.
Minimization is a transition stage. While still monocultural, at this stage a person starts having deeper insights about some other cultures.
Acceptance and Adaptation are considered intercultural or “ethnorelative” in that one’s own culture is seen as equal among many other cultures. These stages are:
- Characterized by a positive and constructive mindset about cultural difference.
- Indicative of a person who will intuitively tend to make more inclusive decisions and actively seek to build a diverse workforce and an inclusive work environment.
This highlights the central importance of developing leaders and managers to the point where they have an ethnorelative experience of cultural difference.
Related to IDC is the concept of cultural disengagement. This is the degree to which an individual, group, or organization feels alienated from their own cultural community. This dimension is separate from IDC since it is not part of the developmental progression. The degree of cultural disengagement one experiences is not directly related to the level of one's intercultural expertise.
In the Developmental Model of Intercultural Sensitivity (DMIS), cultural disengagement was termed the Encapsulated Marginality stage of Integration. Subsequent research and experience has shown that cultural disengagement is experiential rather than developmental. A person may experience cultural disengagement at any of the stages of the IDC.
The Intercultural Development Inventory, which is based upon IDC, is a valuable diagnostic and development tool in building individual and team effectiveness, conflict management, executive coaching, and general workplace assessments.
IDI has coaching, leadership development, training, and assessment applications with individuals, teams, and entire organizations.
IDI is a culture-general instrument. It measures intercultural competence relating to cultural difference stemming from all aspects of diversity.
Building intercultural communications competence, or the ability to communicate with other people, helps build team effectiveness.
When an executive takes on new challenges, success frequently hinges upon building new abilities to communicate and work with people having different backgrounds, cultures, and perspectives.
Diagnosing and addressing ineffective communications is frequently at the heart of resolving workplace conflict.
Workplace assessments involve diagnosing individual, team, or organizational intercultural sensitivity and communications competence. These assessments facilitate designing strategies, action plans, development, and training matched to peoples’ current state of development. This helps ensure a successful business-related outcome.
Please call us so that together we can start increasing your workforce’s effectiveness.
Intercultural Expertise: Definitions, Business Value, Challenges
D&I Application Note (PDF): Fuel Productivity and Innovation: Build Intercultural Expertise
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