top of page

Navigating Incompatibilities

Updated: May 23, 2023

Meta-Competencies, Part 4 of 4

The Inter-Cultural Intelligence Competencies Explained

This article is part of a series of four articles that unpack the Meta-Competencies of Inter-Cultural Intelligence and its associated behaviors/competencies. If you haven’t read the first three articles, I would highly recommend clicking through to the first article to start with the general overview of the framework.

The first two Meta-Competencies are unpacked in the second and third articles.

In this fourth and final article we want to unpack the behaviors and competencies associated with the third Meta-Competency:

Let us unpack the behaviors that support the development of the third meta-competency: “Navigate Incompatibilities”

M3.1) Service Orientation and Patience

Navigating incompatibilities and creating a Third Cultural Space to pursue common purpose requires both - service orientation and the patience to see it through. It requires you to come alongside the group at the point at which they are, and allow them to pursue things on their own terms, not yours. Our objective when we are serving people is to achieve transformational change through relationships by navigating incompatibilities. There will be times when your patience is truly tested and you will need to continue to serve others to reach that transformational outcome, which, in some cases may seem out of reach. Continually dealing with incompatibilities, especially those that cannot be overcome requires a commitment to serve the people and the process and be in it for the long-haul.

M3.2) Empathy and Compassion

Navigating the conversational space in an interculturally intelligent way is hard to do with closed hands (my agenda, my ideas, keep out what is foreign). The better way to engage is with ‘open hands’ (room for other ways/opinions, willing to explore, try something new). To do this well is not just an intellectual exercise, it is also an exercise of your emotional intelligence; you need empathy and compassion. This enables you to create a cultural space where people can engage at a deeper level allowing them to move forward together no matter the differences. This is especially true when some intercultural incompatibilities cannot be reconciled. Problems can be solved, challenges can be overcome but some incompatibilities or dilemmas will stay in the room and need to be navigated, this requires compassion and empathy. You will discover that it is not always necessary to agree on all relevant issues to move forward together!

M3.3) Forgiving & Forgivable

There is nothing more challenging than mistakes that linger in the conversation or in the room! They start to live their own lives and become toxic undercurrents that make it hard to stay on the journey together. They make us defensive and the result is that people get triggered faster. (e.g. If somebody make an insensitive comment and it is not acknowledged, it starts to linger. The next time this person makes a neutral comment that could potentially be interpreted as insensitive, your mind tells you… “he is doing it again, I am sure she meant it to be insensitive.”). Therefore, it is so important to find culturally appropriate ways to deal with mess-ups. It is best to add the “What if we don’t?” conversation early in the journey but only when a reasonable amount of trust is present in the room. How to deal with mistakes, hurt and offense (intended or unintended) is crucial, and this starts with me! We all make mistakes, but the question is: “How do we acknowledge mistakes, and how do we make them stepping-stones into the future?” One of the fundamental questions has to do with my ability to forgive others and forgive myself. It is important to be able to forgive others quickly, see it as an opportunity to learn and say: “We messed up, but let’s learn from it and move on.” Learning to do this intentionally, genuinely and in culturally appropriate ways, allows you to stay on the journey and focus on the transformational change you are pursuing together. Most people find it easier to forgive others, but harder to forgive themselves. Having the courage and wisdom to forgive yourself is crucial to your ability to continue to serve as the journey progresses.

M3.4) Humility and Self-Confidence

True humility goes hand in hand with self-confidence, the combination of which allows you to be grounded. (The Latin root of humility is ‘humus’, which means earth). Having both feet firmly on the ground, while at the same time being focused on others and serving them well is a powerful virtue that will serve you well as an Inter-Cultural Intelligence Practitioner. So, it is okay to NOT be Superman or Wonder woman. Rightly balancing humility and self-confidence is not ‘thinking less of yourself, but thinking of yourself less’! It is also connected to knowing what you bring into the conversation, knowing what your strengths are and where you need scaffolding and assistance and not being afraid to talk about it! Humility also makes it possible to acknowledge when you make a mistake and show your desire to learn from it. The ‘litmus test of the Three Color of Worldview’ is a beautiful way to let humility come alive in practical ways: do right by people, honor them and be empowering and life-giving to them!

M3.5) Learners Attitude

One of the foundations of developing Inter-Cultural Intelligence is the willingness and ability to developing yourself as an Inter-Cultural Learner. Regardless of your level of experience and the number of years you have been working with Inter-Cultural Intelligence, we all continue to learn and must be committed to this long-term. Every intercultural engagement is unique and the cultural fabric of teams, organizations, cities, countries is reshaping all the time, therefore we must be ready to engage that process ‘in the moment’! This requires us to show curiosity and interest in diversity, and use our culture acquisition skills to engage effectively with people, places, and topics. Initially our ability to learn will typically kick in ‘after the fact’. If something did not work out the way we had hoped, we need to create moments to reflect and revisit the situation. This will allow us to articulate ways we can do better next time. The more we practice this type of reflection, the more we will find ourselves reflecting ‘in the moment’. The ability to reflect in the moment grows over time and becomes a ‘second script’ that starts to run quietly and powerfully in the background. It allows us to be both a participant and an observer of the conversation at the same time. At KnowledgeWorkx we have developed a structured way of doing this so that you can fast-track your learning cycle, we call it the “Intercultural Critical Incident Analysis Framework”. It is a simple but powerful reflection method based on 6 questions. We don’t just use it for situations where we have messed up, it is a structured way to reflect on our successes and our failures.

M3.6) Commitment to Excellence in Communication

Inter-Cultural Intelligence Practitioners know that resonant intercultural communication is focused on ‘triggering appropriate responses’. It is not my own what/how/why that is at the center of the conversation, it is how the other people involved in the conversation are responding. Our learning curve becomes healthier if we take ownership of the responses we trigger. This is not to say that you fully control the responses you trigger, neither is it to say that you should ‘beat yourself up’ and dwell too long on all the situations where you triggered an unhelpful response. Taking ownership of the response you trigger results in humble reflection to ask yourself the question: “What can I do next time to increase the likelihood of triggering a more helpful response?” In the background of this mindset is a variety of communication styles and modalities. Some of this has to do with personality, other components of communication have to do with our cultural preferences. (e.g. direct and indirect communication, how we reveal or conceal emotions and how appropriate it is to connect ourselves emotionally to the content of the conversation (attached <> detached). To succeed in navigating the third meta-competency we need to have an ongoing commitment to shine the cultural as well as the personality/psychology spotlight on the process of communication.

In the last three articles we have unpacked the inside-out approach of developing Inter-Cultural Intelligence through the Three Meta-Competencies of ICI. We recognize that this is an exciting life-long journey and is both challenging and incredibly enriching.

Start a conversation with us to allow these meta competencies to come alive for you, your team & your organization or get our mini-ebook: Inter-Cultural Intelligence: From Surviving To Thriving in the Global Space.


78 views0 comments

Related Posts

See All


bottom of page