Chapter 5: Intercultural Competence and Communication


Julie Clements


Settlement professionals empower, support, and advocate for immigrants as they transition, settle, and successfully integrate into their new communities. Navigating this intercultural context presents challenges for both the settlement worker and the service user.

As a settlement professional, increasing intercultural competence allows you to show greater sensitivity and empathy towards service users who may find themselves in situations and surroundings that are uncomfortable and unfamiliar. Enhanced intercultural competence on the part of the settlement professional allows for specialized support of the service user throughout the settlement process.

In addition, developing intercultural competence allows you to recognize where their discomforts exist when working in an intercultural context. A deeper understanding of ourselves can help us understand the behaviours and actions of others. Situations can be viewed from another perspective that more appropriately informs our behaviours and actions.

With these goals in mind, this chapter will discuss what culture and intercultural competence are. Both topics will be explored, and a model for the development of intercultural competence will be discussed to support increasing self-awareness. An intercultural tool known as the D.I.E. Model will be discussed and applied to interpret a miscommunication. Culture general frameworks will be introduced as a tool for expanding cultural knowledge. Finally, an intercultural competence development plan will be introduced and explored to support future personal growth.

Specific Learning Outcomes

Upon successful completion of this chapter, you will be able to

  1. Define culture and intercultural competence
  2. Recognize how a person’s values and behaviours are culturally determined
  3. Differentiate stages of intercultural competence development connecting to personal experience
  4. Interpret a miscommunication using an intercultural tool (D.I.E Model) to construct an alternate perspective
  5. Apply culture general frameworks to predict and understand possible miscommunications
  6. Implement an action plan to develop your intercultural competence further

Key Terms

Belief A point of view that is accepted, considered to be accurate, or held as an opinion
Behaviour How someone conducts themselves or manages their actions
Customs A practice common to many or to a particular place
Cross-cultural A culture in which differences are recognized, with interactions between groups of people but mainly on an individual and superficial level
Cultural self-awareness Learning about oneself and one’s own culture, including values, behaviours, and attitudes; recognizing how the culture we were raised in has shaped us
Culture The learned way of life of a particular group of interacting people; includes both objective and subjective elements
Cultural groups Groups based on nationality, ethnicity, gender, age, disability, sexual orientation, economic status, education, profession, religion, or organization
D.I.E. Model Describe–Interpret–Evaluate; a tool for understanding a cultural miscommunication that prompts us to consider an alternate perspective
Diversity The practice or quality of including or involving people from different social and ethnic backgrounds and of different genders and sexual orientations
DMIS (Developmental Model of Intercultural Sensitivity) A developmental model that describes how people experience differences in culture; individuals generally move from avoiding difference to seeking difference
Ethnocentric Evaluating other peoples and cultures according to the standards of one’s own culture
Ethnorelative Viewing our own culture in the context of other cultures; an acquired ability to experience one’s values, beliefs, and behaviours as just one possible reality among other valid possible realities
Ethnicity The fact or state of belonging to a social group that has a common national or cultural tradition
Generalizations A cultural pattern agreed by insiders to be authentic, representative, and accurate (for example, many Canadians like hockey); if not applied universally, can be a helpful starting place for understanding others
Identity Our sense of self and how we see ourselves in relation to others; the culturally influenced characteristics that make us recognized as part of a group
Intercultural Interactions between cultures on a whole-society level and characterized by respect for difference and deep comprehension and relationship
Intercultural communication Communicating in a way that is effective and appropriate across cultures; requires intercultural competence
Intercultural development Movement from an ethnocentric to a more ethnorelative mindset
Intercultural competence The ability to interact effectively and appropriately across cultures
Intercultural empathy The ability to see the world from another’s point of view or worldview
Intercultural sensitivity The ability to experience cultural difference in a complex way
Multicultural A culture consisting of people of various groups but lacking meaningful interaction between groups; social interaction is usually superficial and polite
Norm A principle of a group that guides, controls, or regulates proper and acceptable behaviour
Objective culture Features of culture we can easily observe; for example, language, traditional dress, foods, art, literature, drama, music, and dance
Process Model of Intercultural Competence Describes the continuous process of developing intercultural competence by having the right attitude, knowledge, and skills for a shift in mindset to occur and effective and appropriate communication to result; includes both personal and interpersonal elements
Subjective culture Features of culture not easily observed and that influence the way people behave; for example, communication styles, ideas about friendship and family, the concept of time, and approaches to raising children
Stereotypes When cultural patterns are applied rigidly and absolutely to a whole group (for example, all Canadians love hockey); can be negative or positive; often formed from an outsider’s perspective
Value What an individual senses as being right or wrong; what they believe to be correct or incorrect behaviours
Worldview How an individual understands or sees the world as working from their specific standpoint


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Canadian Settlement in Action: History and Future Copyright © 2021 by Julie Clements is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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