Daily news scare us and make us suspicious, especially if they involve people from other countries. We do not understand their customs, beliefs and values, so we act fast in labelling them as enemies. Our political leaders don’t help either, as they are more into strategies of defence, power structures and domination than fostering peace and equality. Whether we conceive it or not, we are living in a diverse world as an economic necessity, and the fear of the unknown affects our lives emotionally, socially and financially. We need to push beyond fear…
Cultural sensitivity, awareness and competence
When we are attentive and try (really try) to understand that there are cultures different from ours, and that they should be respected, we start to develop a cultural competence, or according to Juanita Sherwood, Professor at the University of Sydney, Australia “Cultural competence is the ability to participate ethically and effectively in personal and professional intercultural settings. It requires being aware of one’s own cultural values and world view and their implications for making respectful, reflective and reasoned choices, including the capacity to imagine and collaborate across cultural boundaries.”
So, when we can’t quite grasp our cultural differences, cultivating our awareness and sensitivity are a true revolution; a necessary one to peace and success. Imposing and harassing will not promote relationships and interactions with other people. It is empathy and connectedness that brings us closer and more open to change and acceptance.
In terms of commerce, the way we communicate, think, behave, and make judgments also impact our interactions with employees and customers across the globe.
Cultural sensitivity starts with the goodwill of trying to understand people who are different from us without judging or labeling, by becoming aware of our biases and trying to overcome those that do not help us facilitate communication. Developing a cultural competence stems from your sensitivity which facilitates cooperation and collaboration. It is as easy as, if people do not understand your products and services, they will not buy from you. We need finesse to build the bridges of ideas and to create true relationships, based on respect of the nuances of those cultures, in order to generate opportunities in new markets.
Exercises for your Cultural muscle
In today’s diverse world and workforce, cultural sensitivity is not considered a soft skill anymore. Understanding and adapting to other cultures is becoming essential, if not critical to develop and grow your business. It is a set of skills that you can learn and practice, like meditation and weightlifting.
In order to exercise your cultural sensitivity, first you must let go of beliefs and value diversity, not as a threat, but as an opportunity for personal and professional growth.
Be aware of your values and biases as well as the cultural dynamics of your potential customers.
Ask questions and practice active listening, in order to create a sense of trust that fosters the relationship with your customers.
Develop a global mindset throughout your organization through training and experiencing. Conduct a Cultural Assessment, that takes into consideration, not only your knowledge of facts about other cultures, but also your attitudes towards openness and inclusion. Then, work to fill the gaps that do not help you reach out to those markets or cultures.
Cultural sensitivity is the first step in your journey to deepening into better business practices, opening opportunities for business and, ultimately, creating a better world.
About the author As a Regional Sales and Marketing Manager in Latin America, working for North America and UK based companies, Erika felt the struggle of conveying the correct message to build the markets across borders. Now, her mission is helping companies create clear communications in order to establish trust with their Latin American customers and keep their business flowing. You can contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org