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An introduction to intercultural competence in the workplace
An introduction to intercultural competence in the workplace

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8 Othering

So far, you have completed activities that focused on your own identity and on shared identities. In a final step in this week, let’s think about the identities of others, or how people might imagine them to be. In this context, the term othering is often used. Othering refers to the practice of distinguishing between ‘us’ and ‘them’. This practice contrasts people who we identify with – who look like us, talk like us, or who we assume were raised like us – with those who we find are behaving and thinking differently to ourselves. We tend to be a bit kinder towards our own group and more suspicious of those who are ‘the others’.

Othering happens based on a variety of assumed group memberships that we find define who we are. As explained earlier in this week, one such key membership is often nationality or national identity.

We tend to think that those who share the same national identity as us, are like us in some way. This communality can be our place of birth, certain values, our native language, or our cuisine. Then, there are the others: those who we perceive as different who do not claim to be members of our group, and those who we think are unlike us but who do claim group membership.

In this next activity you will try to see your own group (which in the literature usually referred to as ‘ingroup’) from the eyes of someone who is not a member of your group (or part of an ‘outgroup’). In short, you will treat your own culture as ‘other’.

Activity 10

Timing: 40 minutes

The key to this activity is the process of examining your culture and the views others have of that culture. Think about the extent to which these views reflect real differences, and to which they are stereotypes which hide a different or more complex picture.

To get started, take a look at The Guardian (2012) newspaper’s Europa section [Tip: hold Ctrl and click a link to open it in a new tab. (Hide tip)] and scroll through the set of articles in which journalists from different countries reflect on the typical stereotypes of their cultures and the extent to which they reflect real cultural characteristics. Pick one article to read on a culture you are familiar with.

Make notes on the following question: What claims about an individual’s identity do these stereotypes make? For example, do they claim to predict a person’s preferences or character traits? Use the box below to make notes.

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Next, collect information on how your national culture is seen by those outside of it. To do this you can use internet resources, news articles, or popular blogs or magazines to explore what people from other cultures think about your own culture and people. Following your research, name three key assumptions that seem to be dominant perceptions about your national culture and list them below.

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When you look at your findings, where are the disparities between your perceptions of your own culture and those of outsiders?

The stereotypes you found: Your personal experience on those matters:
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What do you think causes misperception or bias?

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Discussion

The disparities you have found might stem from the tendency of people to make generalisations about groups they are not very familiar with. While people see the nuances to their own nationality, and the regional, generational or linguistic differences, people who have fewer insights tend to assume that other nations are much more homogenous than they actually are. The act of making assumptions about one’s personality based on a category like nationality is referred to as stereotyping.