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Defining Interculturality

Many times, when I present myself as an intercultural coach I am asked this question:

What is the difference between Intercultural work, diversity, and inclusion? Aren’t they all trying to do the same thing?

The simple answer is yes, they are related but in when explained they are different. In this short article, I will first define the term “Intercultural” as a base for all the work I do and the writing I present in this blog.

In the Oxford Dictionary, the word cultivate is a verb from Latin cultivare meaning to prepare the land for crops. In biology, it’s to grow or maintain. In plants, it’s to raise and grow. It’s also to try to acquire or develop (a quality or skill) or win the friendship or favor of (someone). The noun culture has several meanings:

  1. The arts and other manifestations of human intellectual achievement regarded collectively.
  2. The ideas, customs, and social behavior of a particular people or society.

The word culture in itself is limited in how it explains the complexity of interculturalism.  K. Gilbert and P. Rosinski (2007) define culture as “the characteristics of one group that distinguish it from another” (Kate Gilbert and Philippe Rosinski 2008). Culture, therefore, is an internal process that exhibits itself in the form of the obvious: artifacts, language, body gestures, social habits and literature (Hofstede 1994). The concept of a group regardless of their geographical location, nationality, religion, gender, generational, organizational or social stratification, indicates the inclusion of different elements from the above, specific to this group. This means that previous research dependent on the taxonomies above is inadequate in explaining cultural differences on an individual level (Gibson 2014). The definition does not determine if individuals represent the culture they belong to or not on an individual behavioral basis. Hofstede defines it in the context of an organization as “the code, the core logic, the software of the mind that organizes the behavior of the people”. We learn to pass on survival behavior that determines the future of the group. Impeded are our beliefs, values, thoughts, and feelings, determined by our perception of the world. We form assumptions and they in return affect our strategies, goals, and philosophy, which is the second level of culture according to Schein (Schein, 2010). The third level would be the artifacts or the visible “yet hard to decipher organizational culture and processes”. These three levels of complexity in one culture tell you a lot about what happens when 2 or more cultures are combined.

Intercultural, on the other hand, is defined as “pertaining to or taking place between two or more cultures”. Oxford dictionary adds: “derived from different cultures”. Martine Abdallah-Pretceille (2006), prefers culturality as a term indicating a flexible and adaptable business environment that encompasses all the emerging patterns of thinking, expressions, and behaviors (Abdullah-Pretceille 2006). I like to adopt this term “interculturality” as indicative of the fluid nature of culture and its ability to merge and assimilate or expand with other cultures. Thus, it’s a constant motion where the landscape is continuously changing by the addition, subtraction or interaction of its variable elements. Coaching for Interculturality, therefore when used in this context would mean “Coaching taking place between two or more cultures in motion. Coaching is defined according to the International Coach Federating (ICF) as “partnering with clients in a thought-provoking and creative process that inspires them to maximize their personal and professional potential”.

When we combine the definition of coaching to Interculturality, the resulting outcome implies a spiral of growth.  In my view, the definition of “Interculturality coaching” would be: “partnering with the client in a spiral of personal growth, interpersonal understanding, social engagement, and global mindset”.  Included in this definition is all four levels of leadership. The personal level is where our identity recognition and most of the growth of our own cultural competency happens. The second is where we are able to understand and comprehend cultural differences in others and therefore make sense of the obvious. The third level is where our adaptability in behavior patterns transcending beyond our own cultural convictions towards enabling us to engage with the different culture. The fourth is where we become global leaders facilitating intercultural growth in others. In the definition, the outcomes are clear on all four levels of leadership. While in other kinds of coaching, the outcome is defined by the client, this kind of coaching is predefined in the relationship of the contracting phase before even taking the coach on board.


  1. Kate Gilbert and Philippe Rosinski. 2008. “Accessing cultural orientations: online cultural orientation assessment as a tool for coaching.” An International Journal for theory, research, and practice.
  2.  Hofstede, G. 1994. Cultures and Organizations: software of the mind. Mcgraw Hill, USA.
  3.  Gibson, Barbara. 2014. Intercultural competencies needed by CEOs. London: Ph.D. Theses, Birkbeck, University of London.
  4. Hofstede Geert (2005), Cultures and Organizations: Software of the Mind, McGraw-Hill, New York.
  5. Schein Edger (2010), Organizational Culture and Leadership, San Francisco: Jossey-Bass/Wiley.
  8. Abdullah-Pretceille, Martine. 2006. Intercultural Education 17: 475-483.
  9. The International Coach Federation (ICF),