• Cindy Caldwell

The Intercultural Development Inventory

Updated: Aug 28, 2020

The Intercultural Development Inventory or IDI ( generates profiles of an individual’s and a group’s capability for shifting cultural perspective and adapting behavior toward cultural differences and commonalities – that is, their intercultural competence orientation.

Most of us recognize culture through art, architecture, literature, festivals, holidays or collective history. This is objective culture. Subjective culture looks at patterns of interpretation – values, beliefs, perceptions and learned behavior that guides an individual or group. If we want to be able to move easily through cultures other than our own, then we must work to learn about those other cultures. Learning about other cultures helps us to not stereotype or judge those cultures, which in turn helps us to do a better job of recruiting, onboarding and including those individuals in our workplace.

Individual culture can be based within one’s specific household, neighborhood, school, religion, nationality, state or any number of other influential categories that affect who we become, how we see and move through the world. We each represent a variety of cultural influences based on where we grew up, religious affiliation, family-life, education, and so on. Research also shows that each of us go through various stages of evolution as we work to become comfortable with different cultures.

Denial is the initial stage of intercultural competence. For example: the first time someone hears about gender non-conforming people they may have thought – “Oh for heaven’s sake – that’s not a real thing!” At this stage, someone is refusing to acknowledge an aspect of another’s cultural identity or they may categorize it as unimportant.

Polarization is the next stage and if we look at polarization through the lens of anti-racism, we may gain insight into long-existing racial tensions. For instance, if someone in an organization says, “I think we should support Black Lives Matter” and someone else answers with, “You must be anti-cop”…this is an example of a polarized perception. Polarization is the stage when someone projects an oversimplified either/or, good or bad division between issues rather than seeing both sides.

Minimization is “just wanting everyone to get along”. This stage in the continuum is where a lot of microaggressions happen, such as someone stating, “I don’t see color”, or “Don’t be so sensitive, I didn’t mean it that way.” Minimization is a stage where someone wants to do better with the “isms” – racism, sexism, ableism, homophobia, etc, but they can’t quite see the world through any other lens but their own. However, minimization is the bridge between the monocultural and judgmental mindsets of denial and polarization, while leading towards the multicultural mindsets of acceptance and adaptation.

Acceptance is an advanced stage along the continuum and is marked by someone who is working hard to see other cultures through the lenses of those cultures, rather than from their own cultural lens. In the acceptance stage, someone is working to appreciate the differences in another culture, rather than assuming their own culture is superior. Someone in the acceptance stage is making good progress in becoming inter-culturally competent, even as they may stumble from time to time, not always being sure of the right thing to say or do.

Adaptation is the optimal stage where someone can easily and confidently, without giving offense, move in and out of another culture that is not their own. This does not mean that they can move through all cultures with the same confidence, but they are more adept at learning and progressing through the stages with a new culture.

The IDI is a good first step in improving individual and organizational cultural competence. It gives data on where an individual is on the continuum, as well as a concrete plan on how to improve. Organizations love data for the accountability that it offers, but the IDI also gives invaluable information for creating an educational program that is specific to the organization. It also offers accountability about me as the trainer, because the people that took the IDI can take it again in 12-18 months and see if they have improved through my facilitation on how to become culturally competent!

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