Becoming Interculturally Competent

Milton J. Bennett, Ph.D.

In J.S. Wurzel (Ed.) Toward multiculturalism: A reader in multicultural education. Newton, MA: Intercultural Resource Corporation

Discovering the Sequence of Development

After years of observing all kinds of people dealing (or not) with cross-cultural situations, I decided to try to make sense of what was happening to them. I wanted to explain why some people seemed to get a lot better at communicating across cultural boundaries while other people didn’t improve at all, and I thought that if I were able to explain why this happened, trainers and educators could do a better job of preparing people for cross-cultural encounters.

The result of this work was the Developmental Model of Intercultural Sensitivity (DMIS) (M. Bennett, 1986, 1993; J. Bennett & M. Bennett, 2003, 2004). As people became more interculturally competent it seemed that there was a major change in the quality of their experience, which I called the move from ethnocentrism to ethnorelativism. I used the term “ethnocentrism” to refer to the experience of one’s own culture as “central to reality.” By this I mean that the beliefs and behaviors that people receive in their primary socialization are unquestioned; they are experienced as “just the way things are.” I coined the term “ethnorelativism” to mean the opposite of ethnocentrism–the experience of one’s own beliefs and behaviors as just one organization of reality among many viable possibilities.

Becoming Interculturally Competent


Milton J. Bennett