The impact of intercultural sensitivity on our learning styles

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Mitchell hammer created the Intercultural Conflict Style Inventory. It describes different approaches when entering conflict based on our cultural backgrounds. This model describes the different styles based on 1. To which extent we express or do not express our emotions and arguments and 2. The way we express our thoughts and/or feelings. The expression or the lack of it is presented in four styles. David Kolb created the experiential learning cycle. A revolutionary approach in education. It relies on two main processes in the learning journey: the conceptualization process and the perception process. It contains two continuums between doing, thinking, watching and feeling. Kolb, identified at first four learning styles and later he revised it with Alice Kolb. They added more three styles to become seven. Every learning style indicates different preferences between observing and feeling in connection to doing and thinking. Kolb, identified different factors that influence our learning styles. Among these factors are the social environment and life experiences. These factors are also an important composure of one’s culture. Culture was studied by different researchers as an influencer on our learning style. At first glance a similar pattern can occur between the four styles of communication in intercultural conflicts by Mitchell hammer and the experiential learning cycle with the seven learning styles by David Kolb. Mitchel hammer, emphasized on two continuums on how we act in conflicts. These continuums describe 1. the extent to which we express our arguments and emotions and 2. The way we express it or do not express it. This means that our style in conflict is not only influenced by our reasons and feelings but also by the way we express it or do not express it. This goes in line with the two axes by Kolb on how we learn. David Kolb identified the perception continuum that refers to the way we feel or think of a task and the processing continuum that refers to the way we approach this task. Therefore, both inventories by Kolb and Hammer have similarities when it comes to 1. The way we think or feel of an issue and 2. The way we approach this issue in connection to feelings and thoughts. Dr. Milton Bennett, created the scale for intercultural sensitivity. This scale identifies 6 stages where we can develop our intercultural competences from ethnocentrism to ethnorelativism. Maria Angelo said “I've learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel”. The bennet scale for intercultural sensitivity is built on the concept of empathy. According to this scale it is not enough to have knowledge and information about other cultures, but also to feel the power of empathy toward it. To shift from ethnocentrism to ethnorelativism we need to enhance our intercultural sensitivity where we realise that differences are not good or bad, it is just different. The last stage in the bennet scale for intercultural sensitivity is integration. Integration refers to the stage where people are no longer strictly affiliated to a mono-culture. When people are integrating aspects from different cultures into their cultural identity. We are on this level when we can easily interact and have various counters with other cultures without being limited in an ethnocentric view, and without being affiliated to a mono-culture. According to the intercultural conflict style inventory by Mitchell hammer people who are interculturally competent are able to adapt to the different intercultural conflict styles. They are able to solve conflicts within an intercultural context by adapting and integrating with the different intercultural conflict styles to be able to solve the conflict. Thus, if we become interculturally sensitive we will develop our skills and competences to mentoring our actions and feelings from our personal style toward other styles. This means that interculturally sensitive people encounter a diversity of life experiences and social environments. Thus, when we become interculturally sensitive our social environments and life experiences change. It becomes more diverse as we are no longer living from one ethnocentric view. Kolb identified the social environment and life experiences as affecting factors on our learning style. Kolb and Kolb assured how culture is one of the factors that influence our learning style to a certain extent. These initial observations lead us to the following questions: 1. What is the connection between the intercultural conflict styles and the learning styles? 2. How becoming interculturally competent influences our learning style?   The connection between the Intercultural Conflict Style Inventory and the Kolb learning styles inventory:
  1. The direct style in intercultural conflict and the converging style in learning:
One of the conflict styles by Mitchell Hammer is the Direct style. People with direct style are more willing to express their argument by reasoning and clear verbal messages and they are restrained to their emotions. In another words, we can say that people with “the direct intercultural conflict style” by Mitchell hammer are closer to the “converging learning style” by David Kolb. Because the converging style combines thinking and doing with less focus on feelings. Thinking from the converging learning style can refer to reasoning in the direct intercultural conflict style, and doing can refer to verbal expression and communication.
  1. The engagement style in intercultural conflict and the accommodating learning style:
People with the engagement intercultural conflict style are open to express their emotions and argument. They use strong body expressions and they involve emotions while expressing why and how they got upset. They do not express only the reason behind their disagreement but also the negative emotions they are experiencing. People with accommodating learning style are more welling to learn by taking the action while relying on instincts rather than logic. Therefor, taking an action in relation to instincts and feelings in the accommodation learning style can be resembled to expressing emotions and reasons in the engagement intercultural conflict style.
  1. The dynamic style in intercultural conflict and the diverging learning style:
People with this conflict style are more open to express their feelings and disagreement through emotional body language expressions and dramatic reactions. They do so without the confrontation about the disagreement and the reason behind it. They are not comfortable with direct discussions about the disagreement. They use implicit hidden messages to deliver their dissatisfaction. They expect from others to be sensitive and to get the reasons behind their emotional expressions and implicit actions. The diverging learning style refers to people who tend to reflect on feelings. They are emotional and more people oriented. Yet, this style refers to feeling and watching rather than doing. At firs glance, one can argue that people who are with feeling and watching style might not express their emotions by clear verbal messages but by methods engaged with body expression. Therefor, an initial observation can relate people with the diverging learning style to the dynamic intercultural conflict style.
  1. The accommodation style in intercultural conflict and the assimilating learning style:
Ppeople with the accommodation intercultural conflict style tend to hide their emotions and disagreements. They believe that confrontation might threat the group harmony. Accommodation style to them keeps their face and the face of others. They rather hide their disturbance and keep it to themselves while they are annoyed. This affects their proactivity but still they would avoid discussions. The assimilating learning style refers to people who prefer to think and watch. They would rather to listen to theories and avoid emotions. One can see an initial connection between the assimilating learning style and the accommodation intercultural conflict style. Both styles rely on hiding emotions or emotional triggers. Thus, one can argue that from the fourth learning styles, the accommodation intercultural conflict style is mostly close to the assimilating learning style. Does becoming interculturally competent makes us able to integrate into different learning styles? At first glance, one can say that becoming interculturally competent will definitely increase our ability to adjust and adapt to other learning styles. Meanwhile the suggestion that becoming interculturally competent might abolish our affiliation to only one learning style is a theory that still need to be investigated further. The highest stage of intercultural sensitivity is “integration”. In this stage people are able to integrate and interact within different cultural groups without being affiliated to the concept of mono-culture. This stage can be tested further in relation to our learning styles and abilities to learn through different methods. Eventually, being interculturally competent is beneficiary for more than intercultural communication. ***

Samar Zughool is a researcher on feminist movements and public policy making in democratization. She holds a Master’s degree with excellency from the Faculty of Social Sciences at the University of Ljubljana, and holds a Bachelor’s degree in French language and literature from the University of Jordan. She is an intercultural learning and communication trainer and project coordinator.

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