October 28, 2020

The Three Meta-Competencies of ICI


The Inter-Cultural Intelligence Competencies Explained


To develop Inter-Cultural Intelligence (ICI) and learn how to be globally and relationally successful you have to master the 3 Meta-Competencies of ICI. These three meta-competencies are like ‘coat-hangers’ that form a high-level framework that is easy to remember when you are reflecting on past successes or failures, or when you are trying to navigate a complex situation ‘in the moment’. The three meta-competencies are unpacked in the first article.

Meta-competency #1: Master Fear, Operate in Freedom.
Meta-competency #2: See with clarity and remain focused on the greater good of all involved.
Meta-competency #3: Navigate Incompatibilities.

The above three meta-competencies are helpful but could perhaps be seen as too theoretical or even philosophical. To make it more practically applicable, we have created a structured framework that helps you to systematically assess your Cultural Agility and grow your Inter-Cultural Intelligence.

In the world of competencies there are several schools of thought which separate competence from skill and behavior. But when we use the term “competencies” we mean all things related to the skills, abilities, mindset, and emotional intelligence needed to grow your Inter-Cultural Intelligence.

This article will walk you through the ‘three buckets’ of behaviors using the “Three Meta-Competencies of ICI” as headers.

When confronted with a conflict between two groups, our natural instinct is to ask how I could resolve this conflict and start working on it right away. In order to actually achieve the resolution of conflict, however, it is first necessary to begin looking from within. We must suspend the natural desire to start dealing with a conflict immediately, and rather, start out by investigating the root cause, figure out what sparked this problem in the first place.

There is a natural process of working through the meta-competencies, and in that sense also the competencies that support them. In following this process, you will be able to effectively engage with the problem after having gained mastery over your fear, being able to see clearly and stay focused on the greater good of all involved. And in this way, you will find it much easier to manage and overcome the incompatibilities that exist. Here are the competencies and what they mean to us:

The following competencies enable you to master your fear in order to operate in freedom (the 1st meta-competency):

M1.1) Vision and a sense of Vocation

If you are not wholeheartedly invested, you will back out when the going gets tough. To master your fear, you need to have a deep desire to be present, have a vision, and a sense of purpose. We have seen too often that people who see it as ‘just their job’ do not last when they dive into interculturally complex and challenging situations. They quickly lose focus and energy, they start to default to their own way of operating and lose sight of the bigger picture and their part in it. For those who love the intercultural space it is easier to go the extra mile, even when they are emotionally tired or when people seem to work against them. Check in with yourself on the ‘why’ of showing up? What are your deeper motivations, is it more than just a job for you? The quickest way to get you checked out of an interculturally challenging situation is to have ‘Purpose Deficiency Syndrome…’. So take a step back and ask yourself the question: “What is my life-purpose statement, and is the work I am doing aligned with it?”

M1.2) Principle Centric and Field-Independence

Before you step into intercultural situations, it is important to know what your ‘line in the sand’ is … what are the core values, principles and morals that are important for you to uphold. The intercultural space is likely going to challenge you on your values and you had better be ready to bow out graciously or know when to stop, say ‘no’ and direct the individual or group away from value-compromising situations. There is no better preparation than to role-play scenarios in your head (rehearsing the future) before they happen. The likelihood that you will make better decisions in the moment goes up and the likelihood that you find yourself in compromising situations goes down.

Engaging in the moment in a principle-centric way will lead to being field-independent. This is competence that was first acknowledged by psychologist Herman Witkin in 1962. The willingness to listen, learn and see the other person’s perspective has to be accompanied with the willingness to ‘stand against the crowd’. After you have carefully considered what others have to say, the more field-independently you are willing to operate the more likely you will add great value to the process.

This also includes the willingness to suspend what you already know, and learn in the moment as if you started the engagement with a blank slate. Treat each individual situation as an independent scenario even though you will have examples of historical events sharing similarities to the current situation. Every intercultural experience should be greeted by taking a step back to evaluate the current situation in the current context.

M1.3) Steadfast and Persevering

It is crucial to have the willingness and the ability to hang in there and not give up too easily! Working as an Inter-Cultural Intelligence expert means you will have to embrace challenging situations. Sometimes misunderstandings can become nasty and personal. It is crucial to know that your work is one of building bridges and forging reconciliation. Sometimes that means that clarity will come later in the process. There is no need to demand all the answers immediately; there are advantages to enduring adversity, and to taking your time. You are on a journey, and that requires you to stay focused on incremental progress, no matter how small!

M1.4) Composure & Self Control

In intercultural situations we often have two opposite approaches in the room when it comes to how we deal with emotions. Should we be ‘revealing’ or ‘concealing’ in our emotional expression? Another major intercultural communication factor has to do with how ‘attached’ or ‘detached’ we are emotionally from the subject matter at hand. Knowing how to navigate these dimensions is crucial to successfully connect with the group and build trust and rapport. Developing composure and self-control will allow you to act with the long-term in mind rather than gratifying your desires in the moment. Holding back, even if you are frustrated—resisting the impulse to correct somebody on the spot—will help you to stay engaged, master your fear, and to engage with others more freely and effectively. This is especially true when it comes to being triggered in volatile or potentially explosive situations. Since the cultural side of who we are is so deeply intertwined in who we are as human beings it is very easy to get triggered in a situation where there is intercultural miscommunication and misalignment. As an Inter-Cultural Intelligence coach or facilitator, I need to be the emotional ‘true north’ of the process and facilitate so that positive movement is achieved.

M1.5) Holism and Balance

Our tendency to get deeply involved could be a potential weakness. Facilitating with Inter-Cultural Intelligence requires us to be systems thinkers at the same time! See the whole system, see the relational fabric, the contextual fabric and the multi-level impact of conclusions or decisions. We need to learn to ‘lift off’ at regular intervals (create the ‘helicopter effect’) and make sure we help participants and/or ourselves maintain a holistic overview.

We also need to ensure that issues are receiving a balanced amount of attention. This includes the need for people who are impacted by issues, to receive a voice that is appropriate and given the right amount of space and time. Learning to move between the heated & intense as well as the light-hearted & humorous is crucial to weave a conversation together that eventually gets people unstuck. Balance is also about moving from single stories to creating a balance of stories! Making decisions based on a ‘balance of stories’ is part of the ongoing learning of an intercultural intelligence practitioner.

M1.6) Flexibility and Reframing

It is easy to draw the wrong conclusion or misunderstand intentions, explanations, or perspectives. If you get it wrong, don’t get hung up on it! Be quick to acknowledge it, reframe, and move on. This requires flexibility and the knowledge that people in general have a desire to be understood and acknowledged in a genuine way. Saying things like: “My apologies, I think I didn’t get the full picture from your last comment, would you mind expanding on it some more?” Or: “Your observation was valuable, but I must have taken it in a direction that was not your intention. Can you help me understand it better from your perspective?” This requires you to practice flexibility because it typically means that your own thinking and perceptions get challenged! Model that you are willing to be flexible when it comes to creating room for all perspectives in the room, while at the same time making sure you stay true to your own ‘line in the sand’.

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