: 2020  |  Volume : 18  |  Issue : 1  |  Page : 94--95

Diversity Competence: Cultures don’t meet, people do by Edwin Hoffman and Arjan Verdooren. Bussum: Uitgeverij Coutinho. 2018 (352 pages) ISBN: 978-90-4690598-2

Ton Haans 
 Trauma Therapist, Clinical Supervisor

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Ton Haans

How to cite this article:
Haans T. Diversity Competence: Cultures don’t meet, people do by Edwin Hoffman and Arjan Verdooren. Bussum: Uitgeverij Coutinho. 2018 (352 pages) ISBN: 978-90-4690598-2.Intervention 2020;18:94-95

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Haans T. Diversity Competence: Cultures don’t meet, people do by Edwin Hoffman and Arjan Verdooren. Bussum: Uitgeverij Coutinho. 2018 (352 pages) ISBN: 978-90-4690598-2. Intervention [serial online] 2020 [cited 2023 Jun 9 ];18:94-95
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Edwin Hoffman and Arjan Verdooren’s book, Diversity Competence, tackles the many confusions operating between people from different cultural and/or ethnic backgrounds. Their book − a comprehensive toolbox examining many aspects of intercultural communication − features a great wealth of examples, some of which are very humorous indeed. Diversity Competence would be a useful resource for (mental) health workers, managers, trainers, teachers and students with Western, non-Western or migration backgrounds who are faced with clients or team members from different cultural, ethnic, educational and class backgrounds.

Key concepts

Hoffman and Verdooren unpack how feelings of confusion often get in the way of positive intercultural interaction, when the behaviour of ‘the other’ is considered strange (p. 20). Normalising this strangeness is challenging because of the complexity of cultures. Other factors such as the current circumstances, social position and personal characteristics of those seeking to communicate are easily overlooked too in analysing communication. People are always members of different groups with different cultures that change continuously. Because of this complexity Hoffman and Verdooren prefer to use the term ‘diversity competence’ rather than ‘intercultural competence’.

This competence requires consciousness and openness to experiencing strangeness which occurs ‘when someone from another group behaves or reacts in a way that is somehow unknown, strange or unexpected’ (p. 52). Strangeness can be experienced as a threat and result in hostility and defensive responses. Hofman and Verdooren write that normalising strangeness ‘is creating a situation in which these differences can be safely investigated, negotiated and explored’ (p. 64) to enable a constructive mutual dialogue to take place.

The authors have adapted Watzlawick’s interhuman communication analysis (Watzlawick et al., 1974), adding a third element of ‘common sense or social representations’ to his axiom of ‘content and relationship’. They state, ‘Common sense is a system of thinking, social practices and communication that characterises a particular group. (It constitutes) a worldview of assumptions such as what is true and false, what is good and bad, what is right and wrong and what is normal and abnormal’ (p. 120). It is created in communities in a social dialogue (p. 120).

A really great resource in the book is their tool, ‘TOPOI’,1 intended as a ‘…framework to assist reflection during or after an encounter’ (p. 127). The basic reasoning is as follows: Intercultural communication is interpersonal communication; cultures do not meet, people do. People are persons, group members and humans. At all these levels, they interact during communication. TOPOI, an acronym for ‘tongue, order, persons, organisation and intentions’, represents five interconnected areas in which intercultural miscommunication may occur. TONGUE relates to a person’s verbal and non-verbal language, meanings and interpretations. ORDER relates to a person’s views and logic, concerning the issues at hand. PERSONS relate to how a person views himself or herself, the other and the mutual relationship between them. ORGANISATION relate to the organisational and societal context. INTENTIONS relates to a person’s underlying motives, emotions, values, needs and desires (appeal).

For each area, the following core reflections are used:What is my share? What do I do? What do I say that makes the other person act in this way?What is the other person’s share that makes me act in this way?What is the influence of the social contexts (common senses) making the other person and myself act in this way?

Hoffman and Verdooren have also produced a set of practical study materials with assignments, case discussions and analysis cards to help readers and students to improve their diversity competence, available online at

 Personal Reflection

I have worked in global contexts for several decades as a trainer and teacher (Haans, Lansen, & Ten Brummelhuis, 2007) with different target groups in reconstruction regions after manmade and natural disasters. About twenty years ago, knowledge about interculturality was still in its infancy. My experience has been that with a lot of trial and error, students and I have managed to get the sometimes difficult communication going again and again. Just as the subtitle of the book says, ‘Cultures don’t meet, people do’. Intuitively we have felt that it was not only communication errors and postcolonialism that caused distress. There was much more to it. This book in its comprehensive approach helps me greatly in understanding and tackling struggles in my daily practice of diversity. This is applicable, not only to a global setting, but also to a domestic one − in my case, the Dutch context. By constantly paying attention to the social context and to the basic needs of all people, diversity competence transcends the micro level of interpersonal relationships. I recommend this book to you.

1TOPOI: singular ‘topos’: Greek for ‘place’.



1Haans T., Lansen J., Ten Brummelhuis H. (2007). Clinical supervision and culture: a challenge in the treatment of persons traumatized by persecution and violence. In Wilson J., Drozdek B. (Eds.) Voices of trauma across cultures: treatment of posttraumatic states in global perspective (pp. 339-336). New York, NY: Springer.
2Watzlawick P., Helmick Beavin J., Jackson D. (1974). The pragmatic aspects of human communication. Deventer: Van Loghum Slaterus.