The Developmental Model of Intercultural Sensitivity (DMIS) was created by Dr. Milton Bennett as a framework to explain the reactions of people to cultural difference. In both academic and corporate settings, he observed that individuals confronted cultural difference in some predictable ways as they learned to became more competent intercultural communicators. Using concepts from cognitive psychology and constructivism, he organized these observations into six stages of increasing sensitivity to cultural difference. One of his insights is that intercultural sensitivity is not innate. What’s innate is to bond with and be loyal to a small group, family or larger, that shares the cultural values that you grew up with.
It is hard but not impossible to learn to be sensitive to other cultures. Study abroad students have special challenges when they go to another country for a time that makes them more than a tourist but not an ex-patriate. The first step is being aware of the process.
You can learn more at the web site for Bennett’s consulting business: Intercultural Communication Institute.
The first three DMIS stages are ethnocentric, meaning that your own culture is experienced as central to reality in some way:
Denial of cultural difference
Your own culture is experienced as the only real one. Other cultures are avoided by maintaining psychological and/or physical isolation from differences. People in the Denial stage are disinterested (not uninerested or interested) in cultural differences, although they may act aggressively to eliminate a difference if it impinges on them.
Defense against cultural difference
Your own culture (or an adopted culture) is experienced as the only good one. The world is organized into “us and them,” where “we” are superior and “they” are inferior. People in the Defense stage are threatened by cultural difference, so they tend to be highly critical of other cultures, regardless of whether the others are their hosts, their guests, or cultural newcomers to their society.
Minimization of cultural difference
Parts of your own cultural world view are experienced as universal. Because these absolutes obscure deep cultural differences, other cultures may be trivialized or romanticized. People in the Minimization stage expect similarities, and they may become insistent about correcting others’ behavior to match their expectations.
The second three DMIS stages are ethnorelative, meaning that one’s own culture is experienced in the context of other cultures.
Acceptance of cultural difference
Your own culture is experienced as just one of a number of equally complex worldviews. Acceptance does not mean agreement—cultural difference may be judged negatively—but the judgment is not ethnocentric. People in the Acceptance stage are curiousabout and respectful of cultural difference.
Adaptation to cultural difference
Your experience of another culture yields perception and behavior appropriate to that culture. Your worldview is expanded to include constructs from other worldviews. People in the Adaptation stage are able to look at the world through fresh eyes and may intentionally change their behavior to communicate more effectively in another culture.
Integration of cultural difference
Your experience expands to include the movement in and out of different cultural worldviews. People in the Integration stage often are dealing with problems related to their own “cultural marginality.” This stage is not necessarily better than Adaptation in most situations demanding intercultural competence, but it is common among non-dominant minority groups, long-term expatriates, and “global nomads.”
The sooner you can get yourself into the curious and respectful acceptance stage, the more you will get out of this course. In other words, can you get past your natural ethnocentricism to at least a temporary ethnorelativism?