Based on each of the five stages of Cultural Intelligence, I’m doing a series of blogs about how to promote mental health with cultural intelligence in the workplace. Last month I wrote a blog about how to move out of the developmental stage of Polarization; this month is about how to move out of Minimization to Acceptance. 

“I can be my own worst critic,” Bryant said to his Ambassador Group. Bryant, is a quiet technician at a manufacturing company where I was consulting. Bryant was talking with his small working group of five employees learning together about how to apply cultural intelligence with both colleagues and clients. Cultural intelligence is the ability to adapt our words and actions to show compassion for ourselves and others who have different circumstances. It’s what enables everyone to feel more valued, heard and engaged at work.

I had just explained to his Ambassador Group that, very often in a conversation, how you show up for yourself is how you show up for others. Bryant put it together that he’s tough on himself, so he wondered how he might unconsciously be impacting his customers and even his family.

Bryant had taken the Intercultural Development Inventory® (IDI®), an online inventory that assesses an individual (and group’s) ability level to talk with people who are different. This is done by measuring five core mindsets and their associated behaviors; these progressive mindsets are: Denial, Polarization, Minimization, Acceptance or Adaptation. When Bryant found out he was in the middle stage of Minimization (where most commonly people are) he was surprised that he could inadvertently be minimizing himself as well as the people around him.

Bryant asked me, “What can I do to stop minimizing myself and other people? Maybe I’m so critical of myself because I don’t really know that much about myself.” I was impressed with his insight. I said, “That’s been my experience. As I’ve come around to accepting myself as I am, all the beautiful and messy parts in there together, I’ve come to be more accepting of others. But you’re right, you can’t accept (or appreciate) someone or something you don’t know.” We may think we know ourselves pretty darn well but if we’re being tough on ourselves, there’s a good chance there’s more to learn.

Bryant asked, “How do I get to know myself better?”

How to develop cultural self-awareness

Developing self-awareness within our cultural context is the No. 1 learning opportunity for people in the stage of Minimization. I’d just finished explaining to Bryant’s Ambassador Group that self-awareness has two benefits. Self-awareness allows us to become more appreciative of ourselves as well as aware of the impact we have on our colleagues and clients. Developing cultural self-awareness in each team member is key to creating a culturally safe and intelligent work environment.

This is because, without cultural self-awareness, there is often an:

  1. Incongruence between our feelings and our nonverbal communication and
  2. Inability to see how we are impacting others.

To develop his cultural self-awareness, I suggested to Bryant that he keep a journal, spreadsheet or log and track his emotions. To keep it simple, he could date the entry and three times a day (for example at 8 am, Noon and 3 pm) write down how he felt – sad, glad, mad, scared or energized. Or if he wanted to use more nuanced language to describe his feelings, he can use this Feeling Wheel. In the last space or column, he can write any insights or questions that come to mind.

What happened

Bryant embraced the process; he thought he’d keep his Cultural Self-Awareness Log* for a few weeks and ended up maintaining it for few months. At each Ambassador Group meeting, he reported a new insight that he’d discovered about himself. One particularly intriguing insight was that, as he noticed and named his emotions on a regular basis, he realized his emotions weren’t good/bad or right/wrong like he used to think; they were just there teaching him how to be safe, happy and healthy. As a result, he became less of a judge and more an observer of his feelings.

The next week he noticed that, by being an observer rather than judger, he was more accepting of himself. He observed, “Rather than thinking so much about how I have missed the mark, screwed up or shouldn’t feel or think a certain way, I can feel my feelings, take myself less seriously and be more accepting of how I am. I see now how my log makes perfect sense.

“What was interesting was that it was my sister who actually noticed the change in me first. My analogy is like a person trying to lose weight and not feeling like much has been achieved until they bump into someone they haven’t seen in a while who comments on their weight loss. My sister could see what I couldn’t. She saw that I was more confident, more appreciative of myself and pointed it out.

“Having a technical background, I always prefer to work with facts and figures, where there is no ambiguity. Although the log is not a technical document as such, I found by musing over several weeks of data, I can in my mind revisit those instances and see how I’ve made progress over time.”

How it helped with work

Clearly, Bryant had learned a lot, so I wanted to see what else he’d noticed. I asked him, “How did tracking your emotions help with work?”

Bryant explained, “The log enabled me to manage my expectations better and see how I handled and could potentially handle situations I had little control over. For example, I’m pretty introverted. It’s hard for me when I have to go into a new situation cold to repair equipment. When I don’t know the people or situation, that makes me nervous. People in our society expect people to be outgoing ang gregarious, I can get tough on myself for not measuring up. I saw that pattern in my log.

“Then, when I shared with you and the Ambassador Group how I felt about going into a new situation, we brainstormed ways I can familiarize myself with the company ahead of time. Your solutions of researching the company on the web to learn about them and reaching out for a zoom call with my contact ahead of time really helped me feel more welcome and in control when I arrive on site.”

I pointed out to the Ambassador Group, the cultural context. Extroversion and out-going behavior is more often honored in Western culture than introversion. Bryant may have been tough on himself because he didn’t fit that standard. That’s one reason why being aware of cultural characteristics can be so empowering; we can see how we fit/don’t fit into the status quo and make it easier on ourselves. When Bryant came to accept himself as he is and see the cultural expectations around him, he could see what he needed to do as an introvert to feel safe and secure in new situations.

By noticing and naming his feelings to himself (using the log) and then sharing them with a trusted person or group, Bryant could get the support he needed. From there, culturally intelligent solutions started emerging. Bryant said, “Critical self-analysis can help keep standards high, but I believe there is a sweet spot; recording the data helped me readjust and find a balance, be kinder to myself and discover more self-confidence.”

The purpose of keeping a log or journal is to provide yourself with a dated record of events so that progress and setbacks from which to learn are documented, dots can be connected and patterns can emerge. These patterns along with an understanding of our context develop in us cultural self-awareness. Cultural self-awareness allows us to be more accepting of ourselves which builds self-confidence. Cultural self-awareness also allows us to be more accepting and appreciative of the people around us. This creates more sustainable, genuine working relationships leading to greater engagement, collaboration and innovation in any organization.  -Amy S. Narishkin, PhD

*If you’d like us to send a sample Cultural Self-awareness Log, email [email protected].

Who do you know in your family, community or organization that would find this blog helpful? Please share!


  1. Hammer, M. (2016) Intercultural Development Inventory Resource Guide. Olney, MD: IDI, LLC.
  2. Photo by sydney Rae on Unsplash