Intercultural Competence – Mindsets and looking at the self

Intercultural competence, cultural competence, and global competencies – if you have not heard these terms in the last few years, you may be in a bubble.  And that is ok, because bubbles are safe; however, faculty in higher education have a fairly new and very important responsibility on their hands, and it is only going to increase in coming years.

The Institute for the Future published a study in 2011 outlining what the Top 10 Work skills for the future would be. (Davies, Fidler, & Gorbis, 2011)  In other words, what work skills would be required of people by the year 2020 – can I add that 2020 is only 14 months away!?

Cross-cultural competence was on that ranking, and can you guess where it rated?  It was number FOUR on the list (Davies, Fidler, & Gorbis, 2011) indicating that in less than two years, cross-cultural competence will be a critical and required work skill.  At this point, those of us in higher education have to ask ourselves if we are producing graduates with these skills.  Do we even have these skills ourselves?

I have been charged with providing professional development opportunities for faculty around intercultural competence and supporting multi-cultural classrooms.  It is a great start, BUT, what I have discovered is that it is ALL about mindsets.  I can do all the P.D. in the world, but if we are not looking at mindsets, it’s “kinda sorta” futile.  Mindsets have to do with how we view the world and as a result, how effectively we function within multi-cultural environments or any environment, for that matter.   How do our mindsets around culture develop?  Well, my theory is that they develop over time and are influenced by messages we received in childhood, messages that were reinforced as we grew up, beliefs and values, and what we see in the media, to name a few.

The key is to have an honest look at our mindset.  Let me tell you, this can be hard for people.  We often believe that we are better at navigating cross-cultural situations than we actually are.  According to Michael Hammer and Associates at the Intercultural Development Inventory company, many people will overestimate their ability in this area (2018).  This is where the honest look comes in – we have to be willing to be authentic with this one if we are going to change and develop it.

So how do we have an honest look?  Well first of all, you have to want to – this is called cultural-motivation.  Also, there are tools and assessments for this and some of us are really good at being self-aware and reflective.  The tool that I have found to be most helpful is the Intercultural Development Inventory (Hammer, 2018).  For more information on this particular took and a wealth of validity research material please visit

If we are going to have any validity to the claim we are contributing to graduates having cross-cultural competency skills, starting with ourselves and modelling these skills is an essential beginning.  This is a tough topic to summarize in just 25 sentences, and I could definitely go on – so I will leave you with the knowledge that although it can be intimidating to look at ourselves and our mindsets, I promise you, it is worth it!


 Davies, A., Fidler, D., & Gorbis, M. (2011). Institute For The Future. Retrieved November 16, 2018, from

Hammer, M., (2018)  Intercultural Development Inventory. Retrieved from




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