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Intercultural Sensitivity is Hard, part 5

The fourth stage in the development of intercultural sensitivity is acceptance. At this stage, there is nonjudgmental openness and curiosity about differences but a lack of skills for entering into the other cultural.

People at the acceptance stage may say such things as:
  • "The more difference the better -- more difference equals more creative ideas!"
  • "You certainly wouldn't want to have all the same kind of people around -- the ideas get stale, and besides, it’s boring."
  • "I always try to study about a new culture before I go there."
  • "The more cultures you know about, the better comparisons you can make."
  • "Sometimes it's confusing, knowing that values are different in various cultures and wanting to be respectful, but still wanting to maintain my own core values."
  • "When studying abroad, every student needs to be aware of relevant cultural differences."
  • "I know my homestay family and I have had very different life experiences, but we're learning to work together."
  • "Where can I learn more about Mexican culture to be effective in my communication?" 
At the acceptance stage, the needed learning is learning the skills: study the differences and practice, practice, practice.

People at the adaptation stage (the fifth stage) might be heard to say such things as:
  • "To solve this dispute, I need to change my behavior to account for the difference in status between me and my counterpart from the other culture."
  • "I know they're really trying hard to adapt to my style, so it's fair that I try to meet them halfway."
  • "I greet people from my culture and people from the host culture somewhat differently to account for cultural differences in the way respect is communicated."
  • "I can maintain my values and also behave in culturally appropriate ways."
  • "In a study abroad program, every student should be able to adapt to at least some cultural differences."
  • "I'm beginning to feel like a member of this culture."
  • "The more I understand this culture, the better I get at the language."
For people at the adaptation stage, there is always the further learning of: (1) getting better and better at more and more other different cultures, and (2) learning how to function as a bridge – a sort of translator for two people of different cultures neither of which is able on their own to adapt to the other.

In some versions of the DMIS (Developmental Model of Intercultural Sensitivity) there is a 6th stage, "integration." Integration is a matter of increasing skill and fluency at adapting to other cultures.

At what stage do you think you are? Most people identify themselves at a stage higher than they actually are. People at "defense" will tend to self-report as being at "minimization." People at "minimization" will tend to self-report as being at "acceptance." We do tend to hide our own attitudes and abilities from ourselves. On the other hand, the good news would be that higher stages are attractive. In our wishful thinking, we imagine we are already at a higher stage -- which reveals, at least, that we do want to be more interculturally sensitive.

Most Unitarian Universalists are in the middle – at the minimization stage. We love to say people are basically the same. The Golden Rule itself – "do onto others as you would have them do unto you" –  is a minimization because, in reality, what you would have done unto you might not be what someone of a different culture would want or need. After the Golden Rule comes the Platinum Rule: do unto others as they would be done unto. Doing that requires learning a lot about their culture so you can see what will work for the other person.

1. From Denial to Defense: the person acquires an awareness of difference between cultures
2. From Defense to Minimization: negative judgments are depolarized, and the person is introduced to similarities between cultures
3. From Minimization to Acceptance: the subject grasps the importance of intercultural difference.
4. From Acceptance to Adaptation: exploration and research into the other culture begins
5. From Adaptation to Integration: subject develops empathy towards the other culture.
Source: Wikipedia

When I taught public speaking and communication classes, I would stress to my students, you can’t assume that communication is a 50/50 business. When you’re speaking, you have to assume that 90 percent of the job of clearly communicating your message and being understood is up to you. When you’re listening, you have to assume that 90 percent of the job of figuring out what the speaker means is up to you. That still leaves 10 percent room for holding your listeners a little responsible for listening -- and for holding speakers a little responsible for speaking coherently. But always assume 90 percent of the job is yours.

Don’t meet them halfway. Go 90 percent. People at the adaptative stage have the skills to be able to go most of the way toward the other person – and not demand that the other person come to them – or even halfway toward them because we all tend to think we’ve gone halfway when really we’ve hardly budged.

As for me, I cannot claim to be at the adaptive stage. After all, I live in a county where 22 percent of the population is Hispanic, yet I cannot speak Spanish. I think I’m usually pretty good about being open and curious about differences, but under stress I’m going to fall back into assumptions that there is such a thing as universal reasoning and that I can recognize universal needs. I spend most of my time in a cultural bubble of NPR, the New York Times, and my fellow Unitarian Universalists. On the plus side, this culture I'm in does tend to be a culture that's interested in learning, including learning about how different other cultures are and how to get along with them better.

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This is part 5 of 5 of "Intercultural Sensitivity is Hard!"
See also
Part 1: Juneteenth
Part 2: Unknown Freedom
Part 3: A New Approach
Part 4: Denial, Polarization, Minimization

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