Intercultural Development Continuum©

The IDI measures individuals’ and groups’ placement along the Intercultural Development Continuum (IDC). The IDC describes orientations toward cultural differences ranging from the more monocultural mindsets of Denial and Polarization through the transitional orientation of Minimization to the intercultural mindsets of Acceptance and Adaptation.

IDC Orientations

The Intercultural Development Continuum is a developmental model made up of five orientations toward cultural differences and similarities. It is a culture-general model, which means that it can be applied to any and all cultural groups. As individuals and groups move along the continuum, their capacity to experience cultural similarities and differences with more complexity increases.

Click on the different orientations in the image below to learn more about them each one.


Misses Difference

A Denial mindset reflects a more limited capability for understanding and appropriately responding to cultural differences in values, beliefs, perceptions, emotional responses, and behaviors. Denial may consist of a disinterest in other cultures or a more active avoidance of cultural difference. Individuals with a Denial orientation often do not see differences in perceptions and behavior as “cultural.” A Denial orientation can be characteristic of individuals who have limited experience with other cultural groups and therefore tend to operate with broad stereotypes and generalizations about the cultural “other.” Those at Denial may also maintain a distance from other cultural groups and express little interest in learning about the cultural values and practices of diverse communities. This orientation tends to be associated more with members of a dominant culture as well as members of non-dominant groups who are in more isolated cultural groups. It may also be seen in individuals from non-dominant groups who do not want their cultural identity to be the defining characteristic of who they are. By contrast, members of non-dominant groups who are more actively engaged within the larger, mainstream society are less likely to maintain a Denial orientation, because they more often need to engage cultural differences. When Denial is present in the workplace, cultural diversity oftentimes feels “ignored.“ In other words, any differences, successes, or challenges will not be viewed as being due to or impacted by culture.


Judges Difference

Polarization is an evaluative mindset that views cultural differences from an “us versus them” perspective. Polarization can take the form of Defense (“My cultural practices are superior to other cultural practices”) or Reversal (“Other cultures are better than mine”). Within Defense, cultural differences are often seen as divisive and threatening to one’s own “way of doing things.” Reversal is a mindset that values and may idealize other cultural practices while denigrating one’s own culture group. Reversal may also support the “cause” of an oppressed group, but this is done with little knowledge of what the “cause” means to people from the oppressed community. When Polarization is present in an organization, diversity typically feels “uncomfortable.” Because of the judgement present, it may be difficult to create and maintain positive interactions across differences.


De-emphasizes Difference

Minimization is a transitional mindset between the more Monocultural orientations of Denial and Polarization and the more Intercultural/Global worldviews of Acceptance and Adaptation. Minimization highlights commonalities in both human Similarity (basic needs) and Universalism (universal values and principles) that can mask a deeper understanding of cultural differences. Minimization can take one of two forms: (a) the highlighting of commonalities due to limited cultural self-understanding, which is more commonly experienced by dominant group members within a cultural community; or (b) the highlighting of commonalities as a strategy for navigating the values and practices largely determined by the dominant culture group, which is more often experienced by non-dominant group members within a larger cultural community. This latter strategy can have survival value for non-dominant culture members and often takes the form of “go along to get along” where one minimizes aspects of their own identity. When Minimization exists in organizations, diversity often feels “not heard.“ Because of the over focus on commonalities and dismissal of differences, deeper interactions are not possible.


Deeply Comprehends Difference

Acceptance and Adaptation are intercultural/global mindsets. With an Acceptance orientation, individuals recognize and appreciate patterns of cultural difference and commonality in their own and other cultures. An Acceptance orientation is curious to learn how a cultural pattern of behavior makes sense within different cultural communities. This involves contrastive self-reflection between one’s own culturally learned perceptions and behaviors and perceptions and practices of different cultural groups. While curious, individuals with an Acceptance mindset are not fully able to appropriately adapt to cultural difference. Someone with an Acceptance orientation may be challenged as well to make ethical or moral decisions across cultural groups. Because they can understand and envision the benefits of many approaches, choosing just one or a few can be difficult. When Acceptance is present in organizations and educational institutions, diversity feels “understood.“ Individuals are able to recognize and accept a broad range of perspectives, values, and behaviors, but will struggle to determine the best course of action.


Bridges Across Difference

An Adaptation orientation consists of both Cognitive Frame-Shifting (shifting one’s cultural perspective) and Behavioral Code-Shifting (changing behavior in authentic and culturally appropriate ways). Adaptation enables deep cultural bridging across diverse communities using an increased repertoire of cultural frameworks and practices in navigating cultural commonalities and differences. An Adaptation mindset sees adaptation in performance (behavior). While people with an Adaptation mindset typically focus on learning adaptive strategies, problems can arise when people with Adaptation mindsets express little tolerance toward people who engage diversity from other developmental orientations. This can result in people with Adaptive capabilities being marginalized in their workplace. When an Adaptation mindset is present in the workplace, diversity feels “valued and involved.“ Differences are not just acknowledged and celebrated, they are a fundamental part of the organization's culture.

“The Intercultural Development Continuum is a great illustration to understand where you are and where others are. This allows an individual to shift how they communicate, engage and meet others where they are, while bridging across the difference.”

Ericka Jones

DEI Leader, General Motors

Learn More about IDI® Products and Services

We provide training and support for our clients to build intercultural competence within educational institutions, government agencies, non-profit organizations, corporations, and other organizations through implementation of the Intercultural Development Inventory®.