What is Cultural Awareness? The Importance of Becoming Culturally Sensitive and Aware

Cultural awareness means being sensitive to the differences and similarities between two cultures when communicating or interacting with members of other cultural groups. Cultural sensitivity involves inculcating values, attitudes, and knowledge that display openness and respect for different cultures, religions, languages, manner of dress, and communication styles. 

Although language plays a significant role in developing cultural awareness, being fluent in a foreign language doesn’t mean that you’re culturally aware, as there are nuances and a wide range of contextual meanings for words that native speakers use, which you can’t learn from books alone.

Culture is a broad term that refers to the social behaviour, customs, and beliefs of a particular group or society, which develop over time. 

Cultural awareness is often used interchangeably with other terms, such as ‘cultural safety’ and ‘cultural competence.’ The following definitions will help you understand the meaning of each term. Practical knowledge of these terms will facilitate effective, appropriate, and safe communication with people of different cultures. 

If you are interested in our Indigenous Cultural Awareness Training, you can learn more at this link.

A Detailed Definition Of Cultural Awareness

Cultural awareness involves raising people’s understanding of the influence our culture has on how we do things, including how we communicate, what foods we eat, or even how we go about our work. Being culturally aware means understanding why cultural diversity is important and recognising that not every person will do things in the same manner as we do. Being mindful of this diversity allows us to be more respectful of the way others operate based on their cultural backgrounds. While you may not be intimately familiar with other cultures, if you at least understand your own culture and how it affects you, you can take the first step in developing a sense of cultural awareness when it comes to interacting with people who may have a different background than yourself.

Cultural awareness helps you understand yourself better, your weaknesses, your psychology, and how to become a better person. It also helps with cognitive flexibility, problem-solving, decisionmaking, and improved communication skills. 

In the professional world, many people, including medical staff, diplomats, teachers, and business professionals, find that being culturally aware has a positive influence on their ability to perform their duties. 

Essentially, any person with some form of cultural understanding will benefit because cultural awareness is all about helping people get along without misunderstandings, confusion, or poor decisions getting in the way. So, why is cultural awareness important? If you’re interested to learn more about why cultural awareness is so important, we go indepth on the topic in the article linked above.

Understanding Cultural Safety

Cultural safety refers to an environment that is safe for all people. An environment where there’s no denial of or challenge to their identity or to who they are. It is a space that embraces the differences between people and allows for a shared experience of respect, acknowledgement, and understanding. A culturally safe environment allows people from different cultures to come together to work with dignity.

However, the concepts of cultural safety and cultural awareness, while related, differ significantly. Being culturally aware refers to the initial point of creating a better understanding of other people’s perspectives so that you’re culturally mindful.

Cultural safety encompasses the actions that nurture, respect, and acknowledge the unique cultural identity of another individual to safely meet their needs, expectations, and rights. This involves working from the point of view of the other person, not only from your own. 

Embracing Cultural Competence

Cultural competence is the understanding that a person’s perspective is shaped by complex personal experiences and their cultural background. It also involves the awareness of your own cultural assumptions when communicating in cross-cultural contexts. 

Intercultural competence is comprised of four key components, (knowledge, attitude, awareness, and interpersonal skills). There are also three capabilities, (conflict management, relationship building, and intercultural teamwork), and two supporting skills, (emotional intelligence and critical reflection) that apply across different domains, such as professional, private, and academic, when it comes to cultural competence. 

Being culturally aware is the starting point to ultimately reach such levels of competence, where you can fluidly interact with people from different backgrounds and cultures without an issue.

How Do You Become More Culturally Aware Through Training?

Cross-cultural communication can be prone to misunderstandings on both ends. But that issue can be avoided by considering other people’s cultures when interacting and working with them.

While we may prefer not to admit to doing so, most of us have had the experience of forming stereotypes about someone based on our own set of beliefs or preconceived ideas, rather than actually experiencing the person for who they truly are. Uncovering those stereotypes and recognising any explicit or unconscious bias is the key to becoming more culturally aware.

Being culturally aware develops your interpersonal skills, making you more sensitive to other people’s emotions. It allows you to improve your interactions and communication with others. Getting to know your colleagues and finding common ground is essential to do this. This process of developing cultural awareness is even more critical today, in the age of digital communication channels, where we often don’t interact with others in a facetoface manner.

Final Thoughts on Cultural Sensitivity and Awareness

Today, communicating and interacting with global communities has become a part of our daily lives, making cultural awareness a valuable skill that can help you advance both your professional and personal relationships.

By comprehending the differences, as well as the similarities in beliefs, ethics, attitudes, and values of people and developing our own sense of cultural awareness, we can create a culturally safe environment where every individual can feel like they belong.

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