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Know You Don't Know

RESPECT in Action!

Help participants build intercultural competence by working on cultural self-knowledge.


  • Learn the importance of self-awareness and humility.
  • Understand that learning is a life-long process.


  • Images provided below
  • Flipchart


  1. Introduce the Know/Don’t Know grid on a flip chart or board.
  2. Start at the top left-hand side of the rectangle and ask: What do you KNOW you KNOW? This is the easiest and most obvious quadrant and typical answers include “The sky is blue, etc.” Point to each header of the square to reinforce position.
  3. Move to the top right-hand corner and ask the second question: What do you KNOW you DON’T KNOW? Group usually shouts out answers quickly. Typical answers, “Quantum physics, etc”. Allow 3 – 4 responses.
  4. Move to the bottom left-hand side of the rectangle and ask: What do you DON’T KNOW you KNOW? Repeat, if participants are stumped. What do you DON’T KNOW you KNOW? Things that fall in this category are related to culture and include ways of doing things that we are not necessarily aware that we do. To demonstrate the concept, ask a participant to come up, or walk to wherever the person is sitting. While you speak with the participant, you either step into their personal space, offer your hand to shake, or do something else to elicit a cultural response. Point out that the response is cultural, if necessary. Once the group gets it, write CULTURE in large letters in that quadrant. One way to think about culture is as something that we DON’T KNOW we KNOW. Often we become aware of this when a violation of some sort occurs. It may be obvious that something is wrong – the facilitator has invaded the participant’s personal space, for example – but it may be difficult to articulate the reason why it feels wrong.
  5. Move to the bottom right-hand side of the rectangle and ask the Fourth question: What do you DON’T KNOW you DON’T KNOW? Put a question mark in this box and explain that there is so much that falls into this category that we don’t even have any awareness of. Ask how we can begin to get an understanding of all that we aren’t even aware of. Highlight the qualities of humility and curiosity (reinforce that curiosity and powerful questions are coaching skills throughout the session). This is a reminder to be humble and open minded with our experiences with others, since this is really the largest box.
  6. Close the exercise by using a different color marker to draw what the box would look like if drawn to scale. The proportion of what we know we know is actually very little, compared to what we don’t know that we don’t know. As we gain greater cultural self-awareness and exercise curiosity and humility, we have greater recognition of this. Mention that today’s session will focus on creating more awareness in the culture quadrant, moving more of the “DON’T KNOW you KNOWs” into the “KNOW you KNOW” categories. Draw arrows from that box into the above box and write SELF-AWARENESS.
  7. Debrief:
    1. Importance of self-awareness
    2. Importance of humility
    3. Life-long learning path
  8. Introduce definition of intercultural competence: “The ability to communicate effectively and appropriately with the cultural other. This is a life-long learning path.” Or “Intercultural competence is defined as: the ability to recognize, respect and reconcile cultural
    1. Intercultural competence is in large part about how you interact with people different from yourself.
    2. A key aspect to intercultural competence is knowing yourself so we’re going to spend a little time today working on cultural self-knowledge.


  • Intercultural competence: a range of cognitive, effective, and behavioral skills that lead to effective and appropriate communication with people of other cultures