Cultural Accommodation and Negotiation

Cultural accommodation refers to the process by which individuals may take on values and beliefs of the host culture and accommodate them in the public sphere, while maintaining the parent culture in the private sphere. Cultural negotiation refers to the process whereby individuals must navigate two or more cultures that have values, beliefs, and behaviors that can be perceived as conflictual or incompatible.

Cultural Accommodation

Accommodating to culture suggests an adjustment or adaptation to a culture or a set of cultural beliefs, practices, or traditions—a construct that mirrors acculturation. When bilingual individuals speak a language (e.g., English), they may take on cultural values (e.g., individualism) and beliefs that are embedded in the language and that are not part of their own language or culture.

Frederick T. L. Leong identified three steps to the cultural accommodation approach: (1) The client’s acculturation level and the cultural biases in an extant theory or model that hinder the cultural validity of the theory are identified. (2) Culture-specific constructs, values, and concepts from the clients’ cultures that accommodate the theory or model to the clients are chosen. (3) The accommodated theory is examined for its incremental validity in comparison with the unaccommodated theory to determine the efficacy of the accommodated theory with respect to relevance, utility, sensitivity, and appropriateness. For example, the acculturation level of a Chinese American female seeking counseling for career indecision should first be assessed. As a second-generation, youngest daughter with no brothers, she may have a traditional Chinese perspective on her place in the family and community but also feel bicultural (acculturated to both American and Chinese cultures) and struggle with differences in expectations (e.g., good daughter) and stressors (e.g., pressure to marry). In step 2, Chinese interdependent values of filial piety, duty, honor with attention to hierarchy, and gender roles must be considered. Finally, efficacy comparisons between the unaccommodated (e.g., independence vs. interdependence) and the accommodated theories must be made.

Cultural Negotiation

Cultural negotiation is an adjustment process that takes place at individual, interpersonal, and systemic levels and occurs across cultural contexts. It occurs when individuals (e.g., immigrants adjusting to a new country or bicultural individuals having two cultural backgrounds) navigate diverse settings (e.g., school, home, work) and shift their identities and values depending on the norms of each environment. This allows individuals to fulfill differing expectations, obligations, and roles and to maintain relationships inside and outside their own cultural communities.

Cultural negotiation is needed to balance differing value systems, familial and community expectations, peer relationships, and identities. If conflict arises for bicultural individuals, they must negotiate between two, possibly dissimilar contexts: the culture of their family and the culture in which they live, work, and experience the world. For example, an Indian American female may weigh individualistic values with interdependent values when making a career decision. These negotiations also manifest in behavioral differences in multiple settings, including language usage (i.e., what language to speak at home and what language to speak at school), physical manifestations (e.g., body language, manner of dress), and activities (e.g., playing soccer, ethnic folk dancing).


  1. Leong, F. T. L. (2002). Challenges for career counseling in Asia: Variations in cultural accommodation. Career Development Quarterly, 50, 277-284.
  2. Leong, F. T. L., & Tang, M. (2002). A cultural accommodation approach to career assessment with Asian Americans (pp. 265-279). In K. S. Kurasaki, S. Okazaki, & S. Stanley (Eds.), Asian American mental health: Assessment theories and methods. New York: Kluwer Academic/Plenum.
  3. Markus, H. R., Mullally, P. R., & Kitayama, S. (1997). In U. Neisser & D. A. Jopling (Eds.), The conceptual self in context: Culture, experience, self-understanding (pp. 13-61). Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.
  4. Oyserman, D., Sakamoto, I., & Lauffer, A. (1998). Cultural accommodation: Hybridity and the framing of social obligation. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 74, 1606-1618.
  5. Padilla, A. (Ed.). (1980). Acculturation: Theory, models and some new findings. Boulder, CO: Westview Press.

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