Walking towards intercultural competence

Today I would like to take some time to talk about the so-called “Bennett scale” also
known as the DMIS, the “Developmental Model of Intercultural Sensitivity“. This model, developed by Dr. Milton Bennett in the late 80s, serves as a framework to explain the reactions of people to cultural

As shown above, the experience of difference as a function of your own perception moves through different stages, from “ethnocentrism” to “ethnorelativism“. The first term simply means that you experience your own culture as central and the second that you actually experience your culture in the context of other cultures. The more interculturally competent you are, the more you would find yourself on the right side of the diagram.

The six distinct kinds of experiences on the continuum of development are called (following Dr. Bennett’s explanations which can be found here):

  • Denial: one’s own culture is experienced as the only real one. Other cultures are either not noticed at all, or they are perceived as rather vague associated with a kind of undifferentiated other such as “foreigner”.
  • Defence: one’s own culture (or an adopted culture) is experienced as the only viable one. Cultural differences experienced by people in this perspective are stereotypical.
  • Minimalization: one’s own cultural worldview is experienced as universal. The threat associated with cultural differences experienced in Defense is neutralized by subsuming the differences into familiar categories. Somebody in this position would for example assume that typologies (personality, learning style, etc.) apply equally well in all cultures.
  • Acceptance: one’s own culture is experienced as just one of a number of equally complex worldviews. People with this worldview are able to experience others as different from themselves, but equally human.
  • Adaptation: one’s worldview is expanded to include relevant constructs from other cultural worldviews. People here can engage in empathy and are able to express their alternative cultural experience in culturally appropriate feelings and behavior.
  • Integration: one’s experience of self is expanded to include the movement in and out of different cultural worldviews. Here, people construe their identities at the margins of two or more cultures and central to none.

    After reading this you might want to challenge yourself and find out where you would be in this model. Which perception of yourself and others around you do you have and how competent do you deal with cultural difference?

    When I was in Milano with Dr. Bennett a couple of weeks ago, it struck me that this model allowed me to finally understand what I had experienced during the course of my life and why I had felt the way I did. I actually went through all of the different perspectives myself, learning and changing views, to finally aquire competence and by that a kind of “peace” and acceptance within myself.
    If you are reading my blog since a while you might know that I grew up in Belgium with German parents and wthin a completely European and multilingal environment as I went to the European School. Subsequently I then chose a European study path and an international career which now make me to a sellf-declared “chameleon“.
    As it did for me, maybe this model can help you too, on your path to understanding who you are and where you want to be! The good news is that intercultural competence can be learned. As an intercultural coach and a mindful leader I can accompany you on that path if you want to….
    Looking forward to reading your comments and/or to hearing from you! Jenny

  • 20 thoughts on “Walking towards intercultural competence

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    2. expatsincebirth

      Thank you so much Jenny for introducing (to me) this model! I’m writing an article about ex-European school students and was looking for something like this! From chameleon to chameleon 😉 : Thanks a lot!

      • Jenny Ebermann (bxljenny)

        LOL well, this model really helped me a lot!! Dr. Bennett is excellent and published many things. I am already looking forward to my next course with him. We definitely need to meet soon…what about a skype chat to start with?! Ciao, ciao, Jenny

        • expatsincebirth

          That would be a good idea. I haven’t started yet with studying because I really need to find out where and when (and what exactly), but maybe you can give me a hint then 😉 Ciao ciao e a presto, Ute

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    4. europedirectni

      I have used this model often but I find that those who have little or no intercultural experience find it hard to understand the stages, like you say it is when you have been through them that you can reflect better. People at the Denial stage tend to get defensive but the model helps lead discussion in a group so they realise that others are at different stages and so they have to rethink their position!

      • Jenny Ebermann (bxljenny)

        Very true indeed! I would recommend using it for coaching/training purposes or in leadership situations to become more effective with multicultural teams. Thanks for stopping by! Jenny

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    7. Gabi

      Very interesting! It would be interesting as well to analyse this within the EU (among members) and how this diagram could be applied in correspondence with another concept- “glocalization”. Just a thought…

    8. Maurice A. Barry

      This model is new to me but, even on brief reflection, so very relevant. In my little province, NL, Canada, I fear we are generally too far on the ‘wrong’ side of the scale and with much work ahead.

      • Jenny Ebermann (bxljenny)

        Hi there, Dr. Bennett’s model is very relevant indeed, especially,when coaching/training in the context of intercultural communications. Intercultural competence can be learned but of course people need to be open enough to understand its value. Thanks for your comment! Jenny

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