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What Does Intercultural Competence Mean?


What does it mean if you have ‘Intercultural Competence’?

Well, in short, Intercultural Competence is about understanding how to work effectively with people from different cultures.

People with Intercultural Competence can recognise and deal with cultural differences that can emerge when cultures come together.

This is true not only in the workplace but also in personal life too.

Here is an overview of what Intercultural Competence means in a practical, personal sense.

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If you are looking for a training program, then check out our online course on Intercultural Competence




What is Intercultural Competence?

Cultural differences have been studied for a long time.

From such research, people have tried to fashion a definition as to what Intercultural Competence looks like in a practical sense.

One such example of a definition is that formed by The INCA Project on Intercultural Competence.

They define someone as having Intercultural Competence if they demonstrate the following six characteristics:


1. Tolerance of ambiguity

You are comfortable with the unexpected and unfamiliar. You enjoy the challenge and like trying to find solutions that please as many people in as possible.


2. Behavioural flexibility

You can adapt the way you work depending on who you are working with, ensuring you minimise conflict and manage expectations well.


3. Communicative awareness

You appreciate how other cultures communicate and are effective at bridging differences, seeking clarification and creating common ground.


4. Knowledge discovery

You are willing to do some research into others, including learning about the values, customs and practices of those you work with.


5. Respect for otherness

You regard other people’s values, customs and practices as worthwhile in their own right and not merely as different from the norm.


6. Empathy

You are able to see things through other people’s eyes, demonstrating mindfulness and the ability to find solutions that are empathetic to their needs.

intercultural definitions 10


For shorter definitions, have a look at these 10 Definitions Intercultural Competence




Are there levels of Intercultural Competence?

When it comes to the six characteristics of Intercultural Competence above, it’s important to consider that everyone will be at different stages.

In reality, knowledge and experience vary considerably between people.

To reflect this fact, The INCA Project describes three levels of performance when it comes to Intercultural Competence.


Level 1 – Basic Intercultural Competence

  • Someone with Basic Intercultural Competence is willing to interact successfully with people of other cultures.
  • They pick things up and learn from other cultures as they go along, but don’t yet have the experience of dealing with intercultural situations.
  • They are reasonably tolerant of others’ values, customs and practices although they may find them strange/surprising and approve/disapprove.


Level 2 – Intermediate Intercultural Competence

  • Someone with Intermediate Intercultural Competence is beginning to strategically view intercultural encounters as opposed to dealing with them in a ‘one-off’ way.
  • They have a ‘mental map’ of the sort of situations they are likely to need to deal with and are developing the skills to manage them.
  • They find it easier to respond in a neutral way to differences, rather than approving/disapproving.


Level 3 – Full Intercultural Competence

  • Someone with Full Intercultural Competence is constantly ready for situations and encounters with other cultures.
  • They are able to intercede when difficulties arise and tactfully support others.
  • They are confident enough of their position to take a polite stand over issues despite respect for the viewpoint of others.

Culture Vulture Final


We hope you found our overview of Intercultural Competence useful.

If you want to learn more, check out all the resources our Culture Vulture has to offer!

How culturally competent do you think you are? Take our Intercultural Competence Assessment and put yourself to the test!



 Main photo by Christina Morillo on Pexels

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