8 Interculturally Effective People

Learning Objectives

After completing this chapter, you will be able to:

  • Define ethnocentrism, tolerance, and empathy and understand their connection with intercultural competence (Guffey et al., 2013, p. 66-67).
  • Explain the concept of intercultural effectiveness (Vulpe et al., 2000, p. 5).
  • Define the three main attributes of an interculturally effective person (Vulpe et al., 2000, p. 6).
  • Define the nine competencies of an interculturally effective person (Vulpe et al., 2000, pp. 14-19)
  • Understand how to use critical reflection to build your intercultural competence (Deardorff, 2012, pp. 45-52)

Intercultural Competence

Intercultural competence ( which is also called intercultural proficiency, global competence, cultural intelligence, cross-cultural competence) is an attribute that can benefit you personally as well as professionally. As with most skills, people can work toward enhancing this competency.


A person’s belief in the superiority of his or her own culture or ethnic group is known as , a natural attitude inherent in all cultures.

Ethnocentrism causes us to judge others by our own values. We expect others to react as we would, and they expect us to behave as they would. Misunderstandings naturally result. A North American who wants to set a deadline for completion of negotiations is considered pushy by an Arab. That same Arab, who prefers a handshake to a written contract, is seen as naïve and possibly untrustworthy by a North American. These ethnocentric reactions can be reduced through knowledge of other cultures and the development of increased intercultural sensitivity.

Be Tolerant and Empathetic[2]  

Developing cultural competence often involves changing attitudes. Remember that culture is learned. Through exposure to other cultures and through training, such as you are receiving in this course, you can learn new attitudes and behaviours that help bridge gaps between cultures.

Because culture is learned, you can learn new attitudes and behaviours through training.

One desirable attitude in achieving intercultural proficiency is . Closed-minded people cannot look beyond their own ethnocentrism. But as global markets expand and as our own society becomes increasingly multiethnic, tolerance becomes especially significant. Some job descriptions now include such statements as Must be able to interact with ethnically diverse personnel.

To improve tolerance, you will want to practise . This means trying to see the world through another’s eyes. It means being less judgmental and more eager to seek common ground.

Accepting cultural differences and adapting to them with tolerance and empathy often results in a harmonious compromise.

What is an Interculturally Effective Person (IEP)?

The Canadian Foreign Service Institute, Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade uses Vulpe et al.’s (2013) study, A Profile of the Interculturally Effective Person[3], as a training tool for government employees working abroad.

An interculturally effective person (IEP) is able to “live contentedly and work successfully in another culture” (Vulpe et al., 2001, p. 5).

The Three Main Attributes of an IEP

In the early 2000s, Canada’s Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trades published a 66-page manual called “A Profile of the Interculturally Effective Person”. According to Vulpe et al. (2000)[4], an interculturally effective person (or, IEP) commonly has three main attributes (p. 6):

  1. an ability to communicate with people of another culture in a way that earns their respect and trust, thereby encouraging a cooperative and productive workplace that is conducive to the achievement of professional or assignment goals;
  2. the capacity to adapt his/her professional skills (both technical and managerial) to fit local conditions and constraints; and
  3. the capacity to adjust personally so that s/he is content and generally at ease in the host culture

“What is an interculturally effective person? By our definition, it is someone who is able to ‘live contentedly and work successfully in another culture’.”

~ Thomas Vulpe, Daniel Kealey, David Protheroe, and Doug Macdonald (2000)

The Nine Competencies that Characterize an IEP

Vulpe et al. (2001) identified nine major competencies that characterize an IEP (pp. 14-19):

Major Competency #1: Adaptation Skills

Interculturally Effective Persons (IEPs) have the ability to cope personally, professionally, and in their family context with the conditions and challenges of living and working in another culture.

Core Competencies

1.1. IEPs are able to cope with the stress of culture shock and the ongoing challenges of living in another culture.

1.2 Beyond coping, IEPs actually enjoy an enriching experience in the host culture.

1.3 Without abandoning their ideals, IEPs behave in some ways differently in the host culture than at home in order to enhance acceptance in the new culture.

Major Competency #2: An Attitude of Modesty and Respect

IEPs demonstrate modesty about their own culture’s answers to problems and a respect for the ways of the local culture, are humble about their knowledge of the local context, and are therefore willing to learn much and consult with locals before coming to conclusions on issues.

Core Competencies

2.1 IEPs show in their attitudes and behaviour a respect for the local culture.

2.2 IEPs demonstrate humility by not soliciting acknowledgement or drawing attention to themselves.

2.3 Despite the importance of an attitude of modesty and respect, IEPs nonetheless have the self-confidence to take initiatives and promote change where called for by the assignment

Major Competency #3: An Understanding of the Concept of Culture

IEPs have an understanding of the concept of culture and the pervasive influence it will have on their life and work abroad.

Core Competencies

3.1 IEPs have a conceptual understanding of how culture affects all people and societies.

3.2 IEPs understand the influence of their own cultural conditioning and how some values of their own culture may cause problems in the host culture.

lnterculturally effective persons can empathize with, not just understand intellectually, how the locals see the world.

Major Competency #4: Knowledge of the Host Country and Culture

IEPs possess knowledge of the host country and culture and try  constantly to expand that knowledge.

Core Competencies

4.1 IEPs demonstrate a desire to learn about the host culture.

4.2 IEPs possess knowledge of the history, geography, social mores, customs, and socio-economic conditions etc. of the host country relevant to the assignment.

4.3 IEPs possess knowledge of the local organization in which they work, the political processes of the country and organization, and local management practices.

Major Competency #5: Relationship Building

IEPs possess good relationship building skills, both social/personal and professional.

Core Competencies

5.1 Socializing skills: IEPs socialize harmoniously and productively with host nationals and co-workers.

5.2 Cross-cultural management skills: IEPs help to get people of diverse cultures to work together in a task-functional way.

Major Competency #6: Self Knowledge

Knowledge of one’s own background, motivations, strengths and weaknesses.

Core Competencies

6.1 IEPs have an understanding of their own culture and how it has shaped how they think, feel, and react to people and events.

6.2 IEPs know their own personal strengths and weaknesses in regard to overseas living and working.

6.3 IEPs recognize and are able to manage their own reactions to ambiguity.

6.4 IEPs have an understanding of their personal management or work style.


In this TEDTalk[5], Ali Al Saloom explains how being aware of your own cultural identity can help you have better intercultural competence.

Major Competency #7: lntercultural Communication

IEPs are effective intercultural communicators.

Core Competencies

7.1 IEPs are able to convey their thoughts, opinions, and expectations in a way that is understandable yet culturally sensitive.

7.2 IEPs are not afraid to participate in the local culture and language: they do not fear making mistakes.

7.3 IEPs can establish shared meanings with local people, so that foreigners and local people understand what is said in the same way.

7.4 IEPs possess sufficient local language capacity to show that they are interested in the people with whom they work and interact.

7.5 IEPs can empathize with, not just understand intellectually, how the locals see the world.

Major Competency #8: Organizational Skills

IEPs strive to improve the quality of organizational structures, processes, and staff morale, and promote a positive atmosphere in the workplace.

Core Competencies

8.1 Finding an intercultural balance: IEPs find a workable balance between the need to adapt behaviour to local norms
(“when in Rome … “) and the need to maintain their own cultural identity and values (avoiding “going native”)

8.2 Networking skills: IEPs develop personal and professional networks of local, national and international stakeholders.

8.3 IEPs build consensus between locals and foreigners by reconciling the perspectives of the various cultures so that all parties feel they are contributing usefully to the endeavour.

8.4 IEPs maintain a focus on the task to be achieved while managing cultural and organizational resistance.

8.5 IEPs possess a degree of political astuteness that allows them to assess realistically the balance of competing forces in an organization and its environment.

8.6 IEPs are professionally resourceful and able to function with a different level of resources and supports than they are accustomed to in the home country.

Major Competency #9: Personal and Professional Commitment

IEPs have a high level of personal and professional commitment to the assignment and the life experience in another culture.

Core Competencies

9.1 IEPs give evidence of wanting to contribute to the local community and not solely to the welfare of their organization or self.

9. 2 IEPs have a clear and realistic awareness of their own motivations and expectations regarding the assignment and personal life abroad.

Strategies to Increase your IEP[6]

Critical reflection is an important tool for improving the skills, attitudes, and knowledge needed for intercultural competence.  Consider this list of 15 attitudes, skills, and knowledge that are essential to developing your intercultural competence. Reflect on each item and rate yourself on a score of 1 (poor) to five (very high).

  1. Respect (valuing other cultures)
  2. Openness (to intercultural learning and to people from other cultures)
  3. Tolerance for ambiguity
  4. Flexibility (in using appropriate communicate styles and behaviours in intercultural situations)
  5. Curiosity and discovery
  6. Withholding judgement
  7. Cultural self-awareness/understanding
  8. Understanding others’ worldviews
  9. Culture-specific knowledge
  10. Sociolinguistic awareness (awareness of using other languages in social contexts)
  11. Skills to listen, observe, and interpret
  12. Skills to analyze, evaluate, and relate
  13. Empathy
  14. Adaptability (to different communication styles/behaviours, to new cultural environments)
  15. Communication skills (appropriate and effective communication in intercultural settings)

Consider those areas in which you gave yourself a low score. How can you continue to develop these skills, attitudes, and knowledge?

Ask yourself the following questions about your attitudes, knowledge and skills:


  • How truly open am I to those from different cultural, socioeconomic, and religious backgrounds?
  • Do I make quick assumptions about others who look different from me?
  • Do I measure people’s behaviours based on my own culturally conditioned expectations or do I try to understand their behaviour in the context of their own culture?
  • Am I eager to learn about different cultures? Do I make an effort to learn more by placing myself in situations where I am immersed in their culture, or do I tend to stick people of a similar cultural background?


  • Can I describe my own cultural conditioning? For example, do I know how cultural values affect how I behave and communicate with others? What are some of my core beliefs and how have they been culturally influence?
  • How would I describe my worldview?
  • How much do I know about the visible and invisible aspects of my host culture? How much do I know about the history, geography, religion, and socioeconomics of my host culture?


  • Do I engage in active listening? Do I involve all of my senses? Do I ask questions?
  • Do I practice active reflection of my interactions with people from other cultures?
  • Do I know how to evaluate interactions and situations through an intercultural lens? When misunderstandings occur, do I seek to understand the underlying cultural explanation for what occurred?
  • Am I able to adapt my own behaviour and communication styles to facilitate effective interactions with people from other cultures?

Reflect on situations that you experienced that required intercultural competence. You might consider interactions at work, school, or during travel that required you to interact with someone from another culture.  Was the interaction successful or not? Consider what skills, attitudes, and knowledge were used effectively and which could have been employed more effectively.



Additional Resources to Increase Cross-Cultural Competence


LinkedIn Learning

The link below will take you to a LinkedIn Learning course on Developing Cross-Cultural Intelligence. You will need to be logged in to your LinkedIn account using your Confederation College credentials. If you have any trouble accessing the course, contact the library for help. The course takes about 1 hour to complete. When you finish the course and complete the short quizzes, you can add this credential to your LinkedIn profile.

LinkedIn Learning: Developing Cross-Cultural Intelligence [7]


Published Article

In “Becoming Culturally Fluent: Understanding the Variances of Culture Across Asia can Enhance Business and Communication”, Genevieve Hilton explains the importance of cultural competence and proficiency[8]. Note: this article is accessible through the Confederation College Library database.


Learn about “core” and “flex” aspects of cultural intelligence in this TEDtalk by Julia Middleton[9] that explains how EQ (emotional intelligence) differs from IQ: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=izeiRjUMau4



  1. Guffey, M. E., Lowey, D., Rhodes, K., & Rogin, P. (2013). Intercultural communication. In Business communication: Process & product (4th brief Canadian ed., p66). Nelson.
  2. Guffey, M. E., Lowey, D., Rhodes, K., & Rogin, P. (2013). Intercultural communication. In Business communication: Process & product (4th brief Canadian ed., p. 67). Nelson.
  3. Vulpe, T., Kealey, D., Protheroe, D., & Macdonald, D. (2001). A profile of the interculturally effective person. Centre for Intercultural Learning, Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade, Canadian Foreign Service Institute. http://madgic.library.carleton.ca/deposit/govt/ca_fed/fait_profileoftheieper_2000.pdf.
  4. Vulpe, T., Kealey, D., Protheroe, D., & Macdonald, D. (2000). A profile of the interculturally effective person (2nd ed.). Department of Foreign Affairs: Centre for International Learning Canadian Foreign Service Institute. http://madgic.library.carleton.ca/deposit/govt/ca_fed/fait_profileoftheieper_2000.pdf.
  5. TEDx Talks. (2011, December 20). Cultural identity - TEDxAjman - Ali Al Saloom [Video]. YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rxssL3yo0E4&t=57s.
  6. Deardorff, D. K. (2012). Framework: Intercultural model. In K. Berardo & D. K. Deardorff, eds. Building cultural competence (pp. 45-52). Stylus Publishing.
  7. Kolovou, T. (2020, February). Developing cross-cultural intelligence. LinkedIn. https://tinyurl.com/developing-cross-cultural-int.
  8. Hilton, G. (2007, November 1). Becoming culturally fluent: Understanding the variances of culture across Asia can enhance business and communication. Communication World24(6), 34-37. https://bit.ly/3goxTt2.
  9. TEDxTalks. (2015, February 20). Cultural intelligence: The competitive edge for leaders (video). YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=izeiRjUMau4


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