by Heather Robinson and Laura Bathurst

The Developmental Model of Intercultural Sensitivity or “DMIS” (M. J. Bennett, 1993) is an important framework that helps people increase the effectiveness of intercultural training, coaching, teambuilding and organization development. Have you noticed that the Cultural Detective series is right in line with DMIS-guided development?

As Janet Bennett wrote in Contemporary Leadership and Intercultural Competence, 2008:

The underlying assumption of the [DMIS] model suggests that as the learners’ experience of difference becomes more sophisticated and cognitively complex, the degree of intercultural competence increases (J. M. Bennett & M. J. Bennett, 2004). There are six stages of increasing sensitivity to cultural difference, and each stage reflects a worldview configuration, as well as attitudes and competencies associated with it. By identifying the underlying cognitive orientation that the audience has towards cultural differences, the trainer can tailor programming to intentionally and systematically address the learners’ developmental needs, without engendering unnecessary resistance.

Let’s take a closer look at how Cultural Detective can support and challenge learners at each stage of the DMIS, as they develop from difference avoiders to difference seekers.

First, Cultural Detective is intentionally presented with attractive and engaging images to evoke the curiosity of those new to thinking about their intercultural encounters. The look and feel of Cultural Detective provides an appropriately sequenced entry point. Those with a Denial orientation are particularly inclined to miss cultural aspects of their surroundings, and the aesthetic appeal, whimsical “detective” metaphor as well as the resource guide, music listings, proverbs, real-life critical incidents and Values Lenses are useful in orienting learners at this stage.

According to the DMIS, those with somewhat more experience thinking about cultural difference tend to notice more cultural contrast, but tend to experience these contrasts as threatening, simple and polarized. Those with this Defense orientation are also supported by the Cultural Detective look and feel. In addition, they are given the concrete and calming activity of identifying Words and Actions. This grounds learners at this stage in a more detailed and rich perception of their experience, and teaches them to channel or use negative judgments as clues to deeper discovery.

People with the next orientation, Minimization, continue to benefit from honing their skills at identifying Words and Actions. Identifying motivations (Positive Intent, Cultural Sense, Beliefs or Values) underlying Words and Actions is the growth edge for this group of learners and is precisely where Cultural Detective takes them next. The impact of this element of the Cultural Detective methodology is even more powerful when paired with the package. This deeper exploration brings individuals in Minimization to a richer and more nuanced understanding of their own personal Value Lens and how it relates to the group Values Lenses of the various cultures to which the person belongs.

Those with an Acceptance orientation, the first of the Ethnorelative stages, are ready for broader learning about other cultures. They are particularly served by viewing the Cultural Detective Critical Incidents through multiple Values Lenses. This fosters awareness of logical frameworks for understanding cultures. Learners at this stage are able to see the Cultural Detective Worksheet as an interactive system rather than as a set of linear or discrete “boxes.” They learn to compare similarities and differences in worldviews and make the link between values and behaviors.

The final step in the Cultural Detective methodology, and one very few other intercultural tools include, is how to put intercultural understanding into practice by Bridging the Culture Gap. The bridging activity is where those in Adaptation are challenged to exercise their cognitive intercultural capacity within the culture-specific context of the Cultural Detective Critical Incident, by identifying emergent alternatives. Learners develop their abilities to generate intrapersonal, interpersonal and organizational (systems, processes) bridges to encourage and sustain ongoing intercultural competence.

Finally, to support those with an Integration orientation and others who are internalizing a cultural identity derived from the experience of negotiating multiple cultural contexts, there is the . While the whole Cultural Detective approach encourages and supports learners to deeper understanding of their identities and how identity is influenced by multiple cultural experiences (gender, age, ethnicity, nationality, sexual orientation, spiritual tradition…), this package provides focused insight to potential Blended Culture people. Those who benefit most from using the Cultural Detective Blended Culture, however, are those without such direct experience who want to live and work more effectively with this small but growing number of Blended Culture people. This could include family of Third Culture Kids, teachers and social workers working with refugee, immigrant and migrant communities, and corporate leaders managing teams of globally experienced employees.

Cultural Detective has much to offer intercultural work based on the DMIS. This support is designed into every package plus several specific packages to enhance intercultural learning along the DMIS in an even more targeted way. It’s important to note that while coaching can be geared to a specific orientation, it is rare that trainers working with groups can focus exclusively on one, as groups are usually mixed! In these cases learning activities are best sequenced to support earlier orientations before moving to more challenging activities. The order matters and the Cultural Detective methodology, as you can see, is in natural alignment with the DMIS.