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Intercultural Fluency: Pros and Cons

This post on the pros and cons of #intercultural #fluency has been delayed, in part by my efforts to enjoy the altogether too-brief Canadian summer and the revamping of my website!

Intercultural fluency is the ability to perform more than one culture (its values, beliefs, practices, etc.) sufficiently and effectively. By ‘perform,’ I mean that you are able to be seen and received as a competent member of a culture, based on your performance of the culture’s verbal communication styles, nonverbal cues, upholding of cultural worldviews, and so on. Moreover, the idea of ‘fluency,’ like used for languages, the interculturally-fluent individual is able to switch between (competing) cultural worldviews with ease.

Of course, intercultural fluency is a process that can be learned and developed, which I will talk about in future posts. However, for now, I wanted to point out some of the merits of an intercultural fluency approach and some of its drawbacks.


1. Intercultural fluency allows you the ability to see intercultural encounters from the perspective of other people’s cultures. It demonstrates that you recognize that all cultures have different logics (values, beliefs, behaviours) that are legitimate. This point, especially in a world in which ethnic and racial conflicts abound and are normalized, cannot be overstated.

2. Second, by becoming intercultural fluent, you mitigate the defence mechanism effect of #ethnocentrism. Ethnocentrism is when we see our own cultural values, beliefs, worldviews as superior to others.’ When we are being ethnocentric, we can’t see other cultural worldviews as legitimate ways of understanding the world. Moreover, when we feel threatened by difference, whether it’s from work, study or travel abroad or an encounter in a different neighbourhood across town, ethnocentrism becomes a defence mechanism.

3. Intercultural fluency can allow you to develop into the bridge between cultures and groups, thereby enhancing your own skills as a catalyst, a networker, a leader, a coach. It fosters the opportunity for #collaboration across different styles of verbal and nonverbal communication, of resolving conflict and differing face needs and varying ways to be in the world.

But of course, there are CONS.

1. Intercultural fluency is less useful at analyzing the #inequities and social, economic and political barriers within a culture. It often operates within a depoliticized cultural frame, not seeing people within their own culture contesting meanings and identities.

2. Relatedly, intercultural fluency may perceive cultural differences as a reason why there’s disagreement or conflict when there could be other dynamics, such as historic inequities based on social identities such as gender, age, race, ethnicity, sexuality, ability, and so forth.

3. Intercultural fluency, beyond self-assessment tools, has little in the way of #metrics to track and measure change and improvement. How, for example, would a manager or leader know if their team members have achieved intercultural fluency? How would track a workplace initiative to assess its incorporation into organizational culture? Personally, I think there is a great opportunity to develop such metrics and measures to better embed intercultural fluency with those of #equity, #diversity and #inclusion and support more robust, interculturally inclusive environments.

I will talk more about #intercultural I#nclusion in the next post – look out for it!

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