The Amercian Gen Y/ Millennial generation will be most ethnically and culturally diverse in US history. So rumor has it that this generation, your generation, will be more effective across cultural differences, and break down existing racial barriers. This may be true, but it will not come as a result of the how diverse you are, but how interculturally competent you are. Intercultural competence is the ability to be effective and appropriate in intercultural situations and to have the flexibility to select and use culturally appropriate behavior and communication (Darla Deardorff, The Sage Handbook of Intercultural Competence, 2009).
This requires great cultural self-awareness and specific set of attitudes, skills, and knowledge (see list below). Like any other competence, it takes intentional learning and practice to develop a high or effective level of competence. It doesn’t come just by being exposed to diversity, it would be like saying you can learn to ride a bike by working in a bike shop without ever trying to ride a bike. In fact, research shows that most “exposure” opportunities (such as study abroad) only reinforce our own bias and stereotypes. Don’t get me wrong, I support and encourage these are rich and valuable experiences, however, to develop intercultural competence you have to do more.
Begin with cultural self-awareness, better understand your values and beliefs and how they inform your behavior and communication. Reflect on the various cultural influences in your life; family, community, region, nationality, gender, sexuality, ethnicity, religion, etc. You want to be hypersensitive to the drivers of your own behavior. As you are able to more effectively do this within yourself, you will be able to see the complexity of cultural behavior in others. Additional attitudes, skills, knowledge you’re going to need are:
- Cultural self-awareness
- Cultural knowledge (general and specific)
- Listening and observation
- Ask questions
Start with cultural self-awareness! Keep an eye out for more discussion on the other attitudes, skills, and knowledge in future blogs.