Phyllis Braxton of PINK Consulting gave a lively presentation discussing the features and characteristics of the stages of intercultural competence. She used humor and a surprisingly challenging exercise in counting the number of Fs in a displayed text to illustrate her points. Most of the 130 people gathered in the Parish Hall had completed an IDI questionnaire in the days leading up to our gathering. This enabled us to discuss where the group fell along a developmental continuum, and where we aspire to grow.
- Denial. In this stage, individuals and groups show little interest in other cultures, avoid cultural difference, and may deny that differences have their roots in culture. This stage is representative of a monocultural mindset.
- Polarization. Those in this developmental stage view differences as opposites, or as an “us versus them” prospect. Some in this stage view their own culture as superior to other cultures, while others believe their own culture is inferior to others (reversal).
- Minimization. During this developmental stage, individuals and groups seek to highlight cross-cultural commonalities, but at a heavy price – a disproportionate focus on commonalities and supposedly universal values – and tend to paper over differences and silence diverse viewpoints.
- Acceptance. In this stage, groups and individuals can appreciate both differences and commonalities across cultures, but do not yet feel prepared to appropriately adapt and act effectively cross-cultural differences.
- Adaptation. An organization or individual in this developmental stage is able to shift cultural perspective and behave in ways that bridge cultures effectively, with a repertoire of multiple cultural frameworks or practices. This stage represents a multicultural mindset.
At each of these stages, the IDI offers practical guidance on how organizations and individuals can improve their intercultural competence, and grow along the continuum.
Further, the IDI measures not just where one falls on the continuum, but assesses where we think we are – and the two are rarely one and the same. For both organizations and individuals, there is typically an aspiration gap. More often than not, we perceive ourselves to be more cultural competent than we actually are. This gap tells us where our work must be done, for as Parker Palmer reminds us, “we find the holy in the aspiration gap – between who we are and who we want to be.”
After the morning’s work, attendees broke out into smaller groups based on their roles in church life – religious education, worship associates, community outreach, pastoral care, ushers and greeters, library/bookstall, the Board of Trustees, and so forth. In these groups, we tackled hard questions about what our IDI results mean for our programs and practices. We love so many things about our church – and change is hard. But we are called to shift in ways that mean a deliberate reimagining of who we could be, and how to expand what we even mean by we.
Following are some comments from the participants in one breakout group as they tackled the question of how to apply these learnings to their area of ministry.
- We talk about within, among and beyond. How porous is the “among”?
- When we talk in generalities about who we are as a group, we diminish the particularities. People feel erased from the group.
- We are a “we” and we are individuals. We need to examine the stereotypes we have/use about the “we.”
- The question of who we are is also about who I am.
- How do we tell the stories about ourselves and tell the real stories about who we are? Can we bring our vulnerability, our authentic selves?
- We need to cultivate curiosity about one another and our lives together.
- Suspension of judgment starts with stopping the judging of myself.
- We’re on a learning journey and we need to help each other along.
And this was just a beginning! More opportunities related to this work will be forthcoming.