Many professionals know the importance of intercultural communication. Factors such as globalization and the increasing diversity of the U.S. workforce make it essential to develop these skills and experiences. Otherwise, working effectively with people of other cultures will be difficult.
Cultural sensitivity is a related and essential concept for these interactions.
What Is Cultural Sensitivity?
Cultural sensitivity refers to being aware that cultural differences and similarities between people exist without assigning them a value.
Refraining from assigning a particular value — right or wrong, better or worse — can be difficult for some people. Some people are accustomed to certain cultural norms and may struggle to understand and respect differences with other cultures.
By developing cultural sensitivity, you can gain a certain respect and understanding that allows for effective interactions.
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Components of Cultural Sensitivity
Understanding is a major component of cultural sensitivity. If you make an effort to understand and learn about other cultures, you will be able to develop respect for others, leading to the ability to value diversity and differences.
You don’t necessarily need to become an expert in each culture’s values or practices. By asking honest questions, demonstrating empathy and seeking understanding, you can respond to differences in an appropriate and respectful way.
This leads to another part of cultural sensitivity: application. When you practice cultural sensitivity, you need to be willing to adapt your communication and behaviors to other cultural norms. The result is empathy instead of judgment.
Boosting Your Cultural Competency
Actually applying cultural sensitivity to your actions can be the difficult part. The American Psychological Association’s (APA) tips to psychology students can help improve your cultural competency.
- Learn about your culture. Self-assessment can help you see how pervasive culture is in your life. It also leads to awareness of your biases and sparks curiosity about other cultures. Start with exercises such as describing your ancestors and their experiences, thinking about how your family functions as a group and characterizing your style of thought (emotional or rational, “me-centered” or “we-centered,” etc.).
- Learn about different cultures. You can start with journal articles and academic books, but memoirs offer a unique view into someone’s culture and experiences. You can also consider learning a second language. “One of the most mind-expanding experiences is to learn a word or concept that doesn’t exist in your own language,” author Pamela Hays told the APA. “Plus, learning a language means you’re more able to reach out and connect with people who speak that language.”
- Interact with diverse groups of people. Research projects, practicum experiences and internships can enhance your cultural competence. If you’d like other types of cultural experiences, you can also pursue volunteering at community centers, religious institutions or charities.
Being Aware of Other Cultures
Cultural sensitivity is a simple concept that can take time to apply effectively. However, it’s essential for interacting or working with people of other cultures in any context.
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