How Do We Achieve Cultural Competence? My Game Plan…

How Do We Achieve Cultural Competence? My Game Plan…


I just returned from Singapore where I had the privilege of speaking to a group of global leaders at a dynamic conference for executive business education  At the beginning plenary the Dean from INSEAD (France), Dr. Ilian Mihov, and the Dean from the National University of Singapore, Dr. Bernard Yeung, both gave thoughtful presentations, calling for the cultural imperative in business education: in our global marketplace we all need to be better at dealing with difference – whether it’s across the table or across the border.  While the call for action is recognized, many are not quite sure what to do exactly.  There is a gap in knowing that something should be done, but not knowing how to get it done.

As I have been writing about my experiences and how I’m successfully helping learners – at all levels in business education – achieve cultural competence, I want to emphasize that we don’t have to wonder, “CAN we achieve cultural competence?”  Rather, we can ask: “HOW DO we do it?”  The answer lies in the cultural competence model of developing knowledge about others, practicing personal reflection, and then experimenting with “cultural improv” as we take the time to build skills through trial and error.

Research has shown that cultural competence does not mean having knowledge about other cultures, studying another language, or even living abroad.  While these are all critical to developing cultural competence, the critical link is what you do with it. It is the intentional, persistent and focused attention of a person’s self-reflection on their learning over time – that leads to greater understanding and competence. (1)  This means taking time to learn – yes – but more importantly turning that learning inward to become aware of attitudes and inherent ethnocentric perspectives that can bias us towards others.  And this is no easy task.

You see, none of us wants to think that we might be at fault – so we assume it’s the other person.  This is ethnocentric thinking and social psychologists affirm that it is part of the natural process of socialization.  However, what is natural – second nature to us – can blind us to the reality that we have to step outside of our own perspective.  Yes, the clichés of seeing the world through someone else’s lenses or walking in someone else’s shoes is true.

In a previous post I promised to share the WEBINAR and my WHITE PAPER discussing my various methods for achieving cultural competence with my business students at the University of Notre Dame’s Mendoza College of Business.  The webinar can be viewed here and the White Paper is available for downloading here

If you are interested in starting new initiatives at your institution or further developing ones already in place, allow me to assist you with resources, ideas, and implementation.  I am interested in helping you achieve your goals through a variety of curricular opportunities and a menu of many effective intercultural assessment tools.


(1)      Vande Berg, M., Connor-Linton, J., Paige, M.R. (2009). The Georgetown Consortium Project: Interventions for Student Learning Abroad. Frontiers: The Interdisciplinary Journal of Study Abroad, Volume XVIII, pp1-75.

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