My husband, Cyril lives and works in the U.S., was born to French parents and reared in Rio de Janiero and Rotterdam. At times he shares his observations of American culture with me. I was intrigued by his recent remark, “I get frustrated with how mono-cultural the US can be.” I found this was a curious statement from an American who regularly spends time with foreign-born nationals like himself. Then I realized what he was referring to is how many people focus on their commonalities, and minimize the differences. According to Dr. Mitch Hammer, 65% of individuals that take the Intercultural Development Inventory (IDI) (a diagnostic tool that measures an individual or organization’s inter-cultural proficiency) are in the developmental stage of Minimization. Minimization highlights the tendency to focus on commonalities across cultures that can mask important cultural differences in values, perceptions and behaviors.

Developmental Stages of Intercultural Competence

“Intercultural competence is the capability to accurately understand and adapt behavior to
cultural difference and commonality.” Hammer says. Competence is measured in five developmental stages:

  1. Denial (misses differences),
  2. Polarization (judges differences),
  3. Minimization (de-emphasize differences),
  4. Acceptance (deeply comprehends differences), or
  5. Adaptation (bridges across differences).

Minimization in a multi-cultural society like the United States impacts people of both majority and minority cultures. People of majority culture tend to de-emphasize differences in order to maintain the status quo and avoid conflict. Hammer explains that, “…highlighting commonalities masks equal recognition of cultural differences due to less cultural self-awareness.” Whereas people of minority cultures de-emphasize differences in order to get along, fit in and minimize risk. Hammer says it’s used, “…as a strategy for navigating values and practices largely determined by the dominant culture group.”

As a result, Minimization can be a cause for strife. The result of such thought and behavior is that people of majority culture feel tongue-tied and unable to communicate across race and culture. On the other hand, people of minority cultures can feel invisible and stifled from expressing feelings and thoughts. In both cases, people are losing the opportunity to connect authentically with people they perceive to be different. As you might guess, cultural Minimization greatly affects quality of life and work for all.

The Impact of Minimization

Recently, a corporate leadership team I am working with took the IDI. After seeing the data that the majority of their team members are at the Minimization level, they began to see how that could be impacting their company’s culture and ultimate growth. They realized that if they remained in Minimization, people would:

  • Not want to share different ideas, or stick their necks out
  • Not be able to grow because people don’t want to make waves
  • Become resolved to the status quo and won’t be open to new ideas
  • Feel shut down and not valued
  • Not experience or feel trust
  • Make assumptions about others rather than finding out the truth

Summing it up, a team member pointed out that overall conformity would increase and there would be a stifling lack of engagement in the company.

What We Can Do

At each of my workshops, I suggest these interim steps:

  • Acknowledge: see the differences, as well as the commonalities
  • Accept: practice accepting the differences without judgment (the differences just are, without being right or wrong or good or bad)
  • Act: practice being curious (wonder how someone came to their perspective or how their differences were shaped)

It’s this attitude of acknowledgement and acceptance that fosters the development of authentic relationships where people are free to communicate and get to know one another. It’s also this attitude that innovates more effective processes and growth in corporate settings.

To learn more about the Intercultural Development Inventory or how to become more inter-culturally effective, email Amy. -AN