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Intercultural Competence: A Journey, Not a Destination

If you’ve been around Edjacent for a while (before it even had a name), you may recall a blog post I wrote in June 2020 called You Should Know. It’s hard for me to read now, just as it was hard to write then. The world was and is still changing in dramatic ways, as many members of the dominant culture (myself included), have reckoned with the privilege of ignoring, the cost of looking away, and the arrogance of assumption. I’ve read a lot, learned a lot, and changed a lot since I wrote that post. I’ve made new friends, new choices, and listened. I’ve tried to be intentional about broadening my perspective, both personally and professionally, but welcoming diverse voices and points of view into my everyday experiences. I use new lenses to analyze news articles, everyday activities, and how I consume mass marketing. I’m still working on it. I probably always will be. I certainly should be.

One thing I’ve found out is how much there is to learn from my colleagues and loved ones of color, as well as how challenging it is to explore new territory without emotionally burdening BIPOC to explain things that I should be able to understand on my own. For example, I’m resisting the urge to make everything about me and instead, view situations from the perspective of others. I’m resisting making assumptions and asking challenging questions in my out loud voice, not just the voice I use to talk inside my head. When I’m in a situation where there is only one person of color in the room, I practice my level 2 listening and consider what it must be like for that person to be in the situation they are in, not just today, but repeatedly, throughout their career.  I stop in my tracks when I come across a story like the recent New York Times update When Dasani Left Home, and spend some time thinking about my thinking as I read. Who would I be in this story? Who do I relate to most? What does that say about me? What work is there to do?

I’ve made a lot of cringe-worthy mistakes, but I do not regret them. My temporary discomfort is well worth the price of the lessons learned. This new wide awakeness makes discomfort a daily occurrence – not something to be avoided, but rather a sign that real learning is taking place. It’s been some time since I’ve experienced that kind of tension so regularly, and this is one of few times in my life I’ve embraced it instead of running away. 

In this spirit, I became curious about ways to set goals, learn, and grow in my intercultural competence. Through my colleague and friend Dr. Veleka Gatling, I was vaguely familiar with the Intercultural Development Inventory.* I knew Dr. Gatling administered the inventory and I asked her to assess me so I could build my intercultural competence systematically and independently. One of my goals throughout my journey towards antiracism, inspired by my friend and fellow Edjacent designer Melissa Smith, has been an effort to live #outloud. This mantra reminds me to not just say I am antiracist, but to be antiracist. To start, I needed to establish my baseline. I also needed to do it #outloud. This post, and those that follow, are my public reflection on that journey.

Taking the IDI

The actual assessment is incredibly simple. It’s a multiple-choice, computerized inventory that costs very little to take. I expected to quickly answer some questions and wait for Dr. Gatling to provide me with an analysis. I did not expect the inventory itself to raise so many questions for me! From the outset, I became aware that this journey would not be without struggle! As I answered the questions, I felt hot and sweaty. I might have even yelled at my screen a few times. You see, for several months I’ve been struggling with anger, shame, and resentment when it comes to my own awareness of race. I’m only just beginning to understand how, well… dominant the dominant culture has been in my life. Items on the IDI like (paraphrasing here), “My culture is superior to other cultures” really set me off and I found myself marking STRONGLY disagree! I felt a strong sense of needing more work while taking the inventory and was eager to learn more about my results.

IDI Results

My results came in the form of two attachments: my Individual Profile Report and my Intercultural Development Plan, both informed by my responses on the IDI. (The links are to sample reports, not my actual results.) The results are on a continuum from a Monocultural Mindset to an Intercultural/Global Mindset. I fell right in the middle, in a zone that felt decidedly not positive at first glance, Minimization. After reading a bit about the Minimization Orientation, I felt a little better. Then I scrolled on.

The next section of the profile shows perceived orientation (PO) vs. developmental orientation (DO), and any discrepancy between the two, known as an “orientation gap.” Reader, my discrepancy was painful! I perceived my capability at a far greater level than my responses indicated. My gap of over 27 points indicated an overestimation of my level of intercultural competence! I quickly cycled through emotions of indignation, shame, frustration, acceptance, and curiosity. I needed help processing these feelings, understanding what they meant, and what my next steps could be. I called Dr. Gatling.

IDI Results Debrief

I highly recommend a follow up with a trained IDI assessor if you are serious about taking the IDI and acting on the results. My conversation with Dr. Gatling shed much light on my results, well beyond what I was able to interpret by the document on my own. Through her thoughtful questions, Dr. Gatling helped me uncover what elements of the Minimization Orientation I could relate to. Most poignant was “tends to assume people from other cultures are basically ‘like us’ and applies one’s own cultural views to other cultures in ways that minimize the importance of cultural differences.” Ouch. Also, this: “may not be fully aware of how one’s ideas & behavior are culturally grounded.” Let me be clear – the Minimization Orientation also includes strengths and opportunities. I am guessing that many of you understand my inability to focus on those in light of the hard truths revealed. 

Luckily, with Dr. Gatling’s help, I have a clear path forward. The results also include what are called “Leading Orientations,” which mean the orientations right in front of mine that I can work toward. My Leading Orientations are Acceptance through Adaptation. The orientation I am working toward immediately next, Acceptance, will require me to take other cultural values and principles into consideration when making moral and ethical judgments, rather than assuming the values of the dominant culture are shared by all cultures.

My Intercultural Development Plan (IDP) includes many suggestions for next steps, customized based on my results. Personally, I plan to commit to personal interactions and intercultural coaching that allow me to explore the values of other cultures so I can incorporate them into my decision-making without making assumptions. The IDP includes journaling prompts that I plan to answer here on the blog over the next few months as I work to grow from the Acceptance Orientation to Adaptation.

Individual to Group Results

I am thrilled with the experience of working with Dr. Gatling on the IDI, so much so that all Edjacent designers will be given the chance to take the assessment and have a follow-up with Dr. Gatling. We will use the results of each person’s Individual Profile Report to create a Group Profile Report, which will help Edjacent identify organizational goals moving forward so our collaborative keeps collective intercultural competence at the forefront of our strategic planning. 

If you are eager to experience the IDI yourself, you may be surprised to learn that many organizations, including public school systems and universities, fund and support individuals who want to take the IDI. If that is not the case and you want to get started right away, take a look at Dr. Veleka Gatling’s Learning to Lead 365 site, where you can sign up to take the assessment and receive coaching based on your results.

In the meantime, Edjacent will be working hard to develop content that complements what our organization learns from our individual and collective results. Stay tuned as we continue the journey to intercultural competence #outloud.

*The Intercultural Development Inventory® (IDI®) is the premier cross-cultural assessment of intercultural competence that is used by thousands of individuals and organizations to build intercultural competence to achieve international and domestic diversity and inclusion goals and outcomes. Learn More


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