Sights on Success Consulting – Leadership Development in Intercultural Competence

Mental health is on everyone’s mind these days, and although there is an abundance of resources available, maintaining good mental health continues to be a struggle fueled by isolation, constant stress, and increased demands.  One area of potential psychological relief we may not have considered, for example, is the development of intercultural competence.

Service Hospitality recently sat down with Angeline S. Chia, Intercultural Development Consultant with Sights on Success Consulting and learned more about intercultural competence, the connection between intercultural competence and mental health, and what services are available to leaders and organizations wishing to improve in this area.  The following is a brief question and answer session with Angeline.

What is intercultural competence?

Intercultural competence is the attitudes, knowledge, and interpersonal skills that allow you to understand, appreciate and work with people from cultures other than your own. These attitudes, knowledge, and skills are, of course, not innate, but they can be developed and improved. Individuals can learn to shift from a monocultural mindset

– an assimilationist approach based on a single perspective to an intercultural mindset

– an adaptive approach that includes more than one perspective so that they can change their behaviour and bridge cultural differences and similarities.

How does a monocultural or assimilationist mindset in an organization affect the mental health of its employees?

For example, a team manager might not have an accurate picture of her or his ability to communicate appropriately with people who are culturally different. She or he, may for example, overestimate their ability, make decisions, and act in ways that unconsciously and unintentionally alienate team members by making them feel not valued and not respected. This may affect the emotional and psychological well-being of those team members or affect their confidence and ability to express and assert themselves.  As a result, they may disengage and withdraw from the team especially if their differences are not recognized and accepted.   Alternatively, they may continue to contribute, but not at their optimum level.

What other negative effects could a monocultural or assimilationist approach have on an organization (or an individual team)?

Having some team members contribute at a less-than-optimal level is a loss for the whole team.  If, for example, they are going along with the majority instead of sharing their unique perspectives, the team loses the opportunity to see some of their blind spots. Unfortunately for the organization, that loss of value could result in a loss of their competitive edge, especially if their competitors have already successfully cultivated an organizational culture based on diverse and inclusive high-performing teams. 

Additionally, team members who are suffering from presenteeism may eventually leave the organization for other opportunities where their perspectives may be more valued and respected.  As you can see, both presenteeism and retention issues can arise in an organization from a monocultural mindset at the leadership level. 

Author’s Note: Presenteeism is when an employee is present at work (as opposed to absenteeism, when an employee misses work), but is unable to perform to their best ability and focus on their tasks due to an illness, injury, or other condition (this includes mental health). 

Alternatively, how can improving intercultural competence in an organization’s leadership contribute to better workplace morale and mental health?

Developing intercultural competence builds inclusive and culturally sensitive, culturally responsive, and culturally safe organizations.  These organizations allow for the free exchange of ideas and value all diverse perspectives.  When an organization has recruited and hired people from various backgrounds and has put them together in teams, cultural differences will crop up in their day-to-day work.  For team leaders to maximize contributions from team members, they must show respect, be inclusive, and know-how to navigate and bridge those differences.  A team leader’s ability to create a sense of belonging and commitment to the goals of the team will motivate all team members to perform optimally and help the organization succeed.

How can a leader improve his or her intercultural competence?

They should start with an assessment to get an accurate measure of their level of intercultural competence.  I am licenced to administer the Intercultural Development Inventory® which results in a report about each person’s intercultural development or how the individual makes sense of and responds to cultural differences and similarities. From that report, we can work together to determine the kind and level of support needed to improve.  Coaching is recommended as the foundation for improvement, but additional resources and attendance at a sharing circle help as well (see link below).

Should everyone in the organization take this assessment?

That is up to you and your organization.  It is possible to improve this capability on an individual basis, but if you are looking to improve the performance of your entire team, it would be best to include them all.  I am available at every step of the process to provide guidance and recommendations about the most appropriate approach for your organization.  Some organizations already have quite a diverse workforce and are looking to address some of the human resources issues that they did not anticipate or prepare for.  Other organizations may be looking to diversify their workforce so that they can fill the talent or skill shortage.  Whatever the case, each organization will achieve success according to how interculturally competent their leadership and employees are and how much they invest in their intercultural development.

Angeline is an amazing resource and is excited to work with the service and hospitality industries.  Please contact her directly to set up a complimentary conversation about your organization’s individual needs in intercultural development.  Angeline can be reached at (306) 201-0689 or at [email protected].

Angeline has recommended these resources for further information:

10 Myths About Intercultural Competence Development

The Intercultural Development Continuum

Diversity and Cross-Cultural Sharing Circle: Information & Registration

Services offered by Sights on Success Consulting


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