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Understanding Cultural Awareness, Sensitivity & Competence

Understanding Cultural Awareness, Sensitivity & Competence.

Population data has revealed that the nation is diversifying much faster than originally predicted.

As the population in the U.S. becomes more diverse, the ability to communicate with limited-English speakers is more important than ever. But when looking to increase access and improve experiences, implementing a language support solution alone isn't enough. Companies must also be aware of cultural differences and cognizant of how someone's culture and background might impact their communication.

Culture goes beyond language to include:

  • Attitudes
  • Beliefs
  • Goals
  • Practices

This guide is intended to help you better understand cultural awareness, sensitivity, and competence, as well as the importance of the role they play when working with people from diverse backgrounds.

What Is Cultural Awareness?

Cultural awareness starts with a basic understanding that people come from various cultures. It requires self-reflection to identify your own specific cultural beliefs, values, and attitudes and how those impact your behaviors. It also requires recognizing that each person has different experiences based on their personal culture and background and that those things can impact the way they understand and behave in certain situations.

Some of the biggest influences in our lives come from:

  • Parents
  • Teachers
  • Friends and peers
  • Media and entertainment

The way we access information (as well as the source) can also influence our general beliefs.

Why it Matters

The first step in being able to work effectively with those from different backgrounds is to recognize our own cultural influences and those of others. This awareness can help people avoid uncomfortable situations that may arise when people from different cultures work together. Awareness also allows you to move from the belief that the way you do things is the right or only way toward a more inclusive point of view.


What Is Cultural Sensitivity?

To be culturally sensitive means you do not believe one culture is superior to another. In other words, you recognize differences without assigning a specific value to any one culture. One culture is not good or bad, right or wrong, or better or worse than another. They are simply different.

The challenge with cultural sensitivity is that people who belong to the dominant culture (generally the majority population) may have a harder time recognizing others who are not part of the same dominant culture. In the context of both countries and organizations, the dominant culture becomes the "norm," while other cultures may not be fully recognized or valued.

As people begin to recognize cultural differences, they progress through multiple stages of awareness and sensitivity:

  • Parochial stage: People are part of a dominant culture and generally not aware of any other cultures.
  • Ethnocentric stage: People are aware of other cultures but believe their own culture to be superior and do not want to make changes to their own behaviors.
  • Synergistic stage: People value differences in cultures and make a conscious effort to understand their own biases and adopt new ways of doing things.
  • Participatory third culture stage: People instinctively understand the cultural behaviors of others and work together to create a shared culture that values everyone's contributions.

Why it Matters

In organizations that work with diverse populations, a lack of cultural sensitivity by employees could make your customers uncomfortable, causing them to leave for your competitors. In a healthcare setting, it could have more serious consequences.

Cultural sensitivity requires that healthcare providers understand how someone's perceptions and experiences affect their:

  • Willingness to seek care
  • Understanding of various treatment options
  • Discussions and conversations with care providers


What Is Cultural Competency?

Once organizations and individuals recognize and value cultural differences, the final step is to create organizational expectations that help people from different cultures work together. Organizations that want to provide the best experiences and care can develop cultural competency by:

  • Increasing employees' knowledge of cultural differences with seminars, workshops, and other resources.
  • Identifying the situations where cultural knowledge is important and providing the skills and training necessary to thrive in these situations.
  • Directly engaging in cross-cultural experiences to continue to develop those skills.
  • Providing continual feedback to help people better understand and improve their cross-cultural skills.

Why it Matters

Cultural competency is the implementation stage, where the recognition and respect of cultural differences translate into behaviors that make customers and patients from other cultures feel valued. Because cultural differences can impact your organization's ability to provide the best service and care, cultural competency is essential.

Culturally competent organizations:

  • Recognize and value diversity
  • Continually assess internal behaviors, policies, and processes that may be creating or contributing to unconscious biases
  • Are consciously aware of cultural dynamics and interactions within the organization or between employees and customers or patients
  • Make every effort to be inclusive of other cultures and to adapt services to best meet the needs of diverse cultures


The Connection to Language Access

Language services are one of the most basic and effective ways to improve cultural awareness, sensitivity, and competency in your organization. Providing access to qualified interpreters ensures that customers' needs are understood so you can address them. But language support is much deeper than a word-for-word translation. It's important to work with an organization that has linguists who have understanding and respect for others, and who know how cultural differences could affect communication.

A culturally competent language support provider ensures that customers and patients with limited-English proficiency are treated with respect and dignity. Organizations also need a language access plan that identifies language and cultural barriers and clearly spells out how to address them.

How to Be an Advocate Within Your Organization

Beyond taking steps to improve your own cultural awareness, sensitivity, and competency, employees can and should advocate for the same thing within their organization. Explore ways to get involved in strategic planning, program development, and service design. Ask questions to encourage discussions around cultural differences and how they are impacting your clients or patients.

If you don't already offer language services, talk to your organization's leaders about adding professional language services to help you communicate effectively with the limited English-speaking community.

Cultural sensitivity is a critical aspect of effective communication in diverse environments. It involves understanding and respecting the differences between cultures without assigning value judgments. Cultural awareness allows individuals to recognize and appreciate the diversity of human experiences and perspectives. By developing cultural understanding, organizations can create inclusive environments that foster collaboration and innovation.


Make Your LEP Customers Feel Valued

Each customer or patient is valuable to your organization. Qualified linguists with an understanding of cultural differences can help you and your staff provide better service and improve the quality of service and care within your organization.

Find out how GLOBO's language support solution can enhance your language access initiatives by requesting a demo today.

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