Cultural Competence – It’s Not as Difficult as you Think!

Posted on February 24, 2015 by Sarah Prom, MA, LPC, ODCP

Human diversity conceptCultural sensitivity, cultural literacy, cultural competence – what's the difference? Some would argue that there are measurable differences between these concepts, and others, like me, would contend that it comes down to two things – awareness and curiosity. The actual definition of cultural competence goes something like "an ability to interact effectively with people of different cultures."

Sounds easy, right?  Not so easy if you don't have awareness and curiosity first. The awareness element isn't just about understanding. There are differences in cultures, backgrounds, lifestyles and communities, but knowing those differences are paramount when interacting with others in a helping capacity.  But we don't necessarily gain awareness by reading books, searching the web for all things cultural or researching best-practices.

The awareness starts with you – do you know what you don't know about other cultures?  Do you have a sense of what you bring from your own culture and background to the workplace and to your social situations? Would you be ok if someone asked you about your culture and background, and if so, could you speak to it?  Unless we know ourselves deeply and openly, we aren't going to have that same respect and curiosity about others.  And that curiosity is what helps us to be aware, open and ultimately culturally competent.

If someone comes to your workplace and it is apparent to you they are from a different culture or community than your own, with different norms, practices, expectations, wouldn't it be best to say "tell me a little about your culture/community and what is important to you as we work together today" instead of assuming or ignoring differences do or do not exist?  This helps us to build awareness around the differences we all have and it comes from a place of honest curiosity about wanting to know and understand someone else. This increases our ability to interact effectively with people of different cultures as we build awareness of what is important to them.  This knowledge then can be built upon as we meet, treat, help and interact with people from all different backgrounds, cultures, lifestyles, and communities.

We Can Help

For more information on how your organization, managers and supervisors can impact a positive cultural climate, contact us for a consultation or custom training program.

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