How Culturally Sensitive Are you?

Hey Guys!

It’s time for a bit of a self-assessment. How culturally sensitive are you really?

The most common model for looking at how sensitive people are to cultural differences is the so called ‘developmental model of intercultural sensitivity’ which classifies people into six categories. So, let’s not talk too much and just get going!

Stage one: denial

  • Do you feel like your own culture is the only ‘real’ one?
  • Do you think that there are no differences at all between cultures?
  • Do you think that your culture is ‘superior’ to others?

If you answered one of these questions with yes, then you are likely to be in the denial stage! People in this stage often avoid the topic of diversity, denying that any type of discrimination exists. Or they define diversity as a problem, expecting all members of their organizations to conform to the mainstream.

Stage two: defense

  • Do you think that ‘all Asians are the same’? Or ‘all Arabs are the same’?  But at the same time, that there are big differences within your own country?
  • Do you defend the priveliges of your own cultural group, by, for example, saying things such as ‘they’re taking all our jobs’? or ‘they are only causing trouble’?
  • Do you think that people from different cultures are destroying your cultures ‘way of doing things’?

…then you are likely to be in the defense stage. People in this stage often perceive diversity as a threat. They would like to maintain the status quo, and defend the rights of their own cultural group. In Germany, for example, it is very common for people in these stages to see foreigners as just wanting to abuse the benefits of the welfare state, without giving anything back to the community.

Stage three: minimization

  • Do you think that all culture means is different etiquette, different food, different dances, and different music?
  • Do you think that ‘deep down, we are all the same?’, and that certain elements of your culture are shared by people all over the world?
  • Do you think that everybody has exactly the same chances and opportunities?

…then you are likely to be in the minimization stage. Now, particularly the third point requires an explanation. Of course the value of many Anglo-Saxon countries that ‘everybody is equal’, doesn’t mean that everybody in these countries is in the minimization stage. What I mean when I say believing that everybody has the same chances, what I mean is the denial that discrimination exists. The belief is that since deep down, we are all the same, so we all be treated equally. But unfortunately that is simply not the reality for many foreign people. Insitutional discrimination is a very common, and very real thing that has severe consequences for many people.

Stage four: acceptance

  • Do you think that within other countries, people have diverse values and beliefs, just like in your own country?
  • Do you think that the diversity of behaviour in the other cultures is different from that of your own country?

…then you are most likely to be in the acceptance stage. As the name says, this means that you accept differences, but doesn’t necessariliy mean that you either like or dislike them. People in this stage face a dilemma: how can they get their own way of doing things accross, without forcing other people with different viewpoints? These other viewpoints have the same value like yours, after all. Often people in this stage get lost – they don’t know how to act. There are so many choices, and all of them are right in their own way. The solution here is to start developing one’s own sense of what is right or wrong, as opposed to acting according to the standards of the society.

Stage five: adaptation

  • Do you try to take on the perspectives of people from other cultures?
  • Do you sometimes adjust your own behaviour in order to fit the expectations of the people from different cultural backgrounds?
  • Do you struggle with the question how you can be yourself while still acting in these ways in order to behave apporpriately for other people?

…. then you are likely to be in the adaptation stage.  People in stage stage are able to shift their behaviour according to the different cultural contexts they are familiar with. So they could, for example, act appropriately within a Japenese, and within an American context. However, this stage is often associated with a struggle for identity. The person looses a sense of who she is, because she behaves in these ways that are in conflict with the way she was raised. It takes time for a person in this stage to re-negotiate her identity. This can also happen for a serial migrant, who is already familiar with two different cultures, and moves to a third country.

Stage six: integration

  • Are you able to act appropriately within two or more cultures, and yet have a clear sense of who you are?

…then you are likely to be in the integration stage. People in this stage are often bi- or multicultural. They are able to move in and out between these different identities, or they are able to integrate them all and create their own, personal culture. Migrants at this stage are able to function in the host society they are visiting, and yet they have a very stable identity. In other words, the ultimate goal of every immigrant who would like to be fully integrated into their host society should be to move towards stage six.



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