Cultural awareness is the understanding that our own culture differs from one individual and group to the next, and specifically from our target language. Being culturally aware enables us to communicate with people more effectively, beyond words and grammar, by understanding their culture.
Language plays a huge part in building cultural awareness. Being fluent in a foreign language, however, doesn't necessarily mean that you are culturally savvy. This is because there are nuances -- and a whole range of meanings for words -- that native speakers use that you can't learn in school. You can online learn them by understanding the culture.
Culture is the collective term used to identify the customs, social behavior, and ideas of a particular people or society; this is created over a long time.If you need help boosting cultural awareness in the workplace, try EasyLlama's diversity and inclusion workplace training. Our bite-sized modules can help you create an inclusive, and stress-free work environment so your employees can thrive.
The cultural awareness journey
Too much emphasis has been placed on developing cultural awareness that the key driver has been neglected: our cultural identity. After all, how are we supposed to understand other cultures if we do not know ourselves?
This is why the journey to cultural awareness starts with understanding our cultural identity. A multi-faceted and rather complex concept, understanding the many aspects that make up our cultural identity helps us acknowledge and understand others.
Being self-aware also prevents us from projecting our values onto others and in the process, helping us relate more effectively across cultural lines.
Having the willingness to accept that the journey towards greater enlightenment is worthwhile and valuable, and having an open-minded attitude helps us become more aware of the diversity of the people around us.
By talking about and focusing on the strengths and benefits that diversity brings
, we heighten our cultural awareness and bring change to the workplace organizational climate and the community.
The importance of cultural sensitivity and awareness
When we learn a foreign language, it gives us access to a different society and culture. This is good since language is the main mode of communication amongst people. Cultural awareness makes communicating with different people easier and more stress-free.
Cultural s and awareness also increases our cultural competence
of the people around us and all over the world, helping us develop a deeper understanding of other people’s culture as well as our own, increasing our tolerance and broadening our minds.
Cultural awareness is important because:
It makes us global citizens
Cultural awareness helps us break down cultural barriers, build cultural bridges, and learn how to love, and appreciate those different from us.
We can relate better to people with cultural differences as we begin to understand ourselves better. This results in more cultural connection and less cultural conflict.
When encountering new languages and cultures, we begin to make comparisons and realize that our own behaviors, values, and beliefs are not the general norm found elsewhere in the world.
By being culturally aware, we can recognize and have an appreciation for other’s values, customs, and beliefs and meet them without judgment or prejudice. When we are culturally aware we can know what is considered inappropriate or offensive to others. Incorrect body language often leads to misunderstandings.
For example, in Greece and Albania, nodding your head in an agreement can lead to misunderstandings.
It helps us create a homogenous and inclusive work environment
In an office setting, we are most likely to come across different individuals who possess diverse backgrounds that may sometimes clash with the values of a business.
Embracing cultural sensitivity and awareness helps us understand how cultural differences may affect and influence individuals when forming their unique personalities, perceptions, and their interactions with others.
A leader who leads with empathy and understanding helps create a homogeneous environment that fosters creativity, and innovation while boosting productivity and profitability.
How can we become more culturally aware?
Cross-cultural communication is one of the ways that lead to misunderstanding, on both sides. We can all do a better job at communicating when we consider culture when working alongside and interacting with others.
As all individuals form stereotypes, whether based on specific experiences or their own set of beliefs, uncovering those stereotypes and acknowledging any unconscious or explicit bias is the key to becoming a stronger, and more effective communicator and employee.
Becoming culturally aware enhances our interpersonal skills, we become sensitive to people's emotions, making communication more effective. Finding common ground and getting to know our colleagues on a personal level is important. This is even more important in this age of digital communication platforms such as video conferencing where people don’t get to interact with others personally.
We can develop cultural awareness by:
Learning as much as we can about other cultures
We naturally see the world through a distorting screen created by our subconscious and deeply held values and beliefs. This leads to insensitivity and potential unintentional blindness to the values that are important to members of other cultures.
This is why we need to expose ourselves, observe and get into contact with the cultures around us. One of the most authentic ways of learning about new cultures is attending cultural festivals and events. Here, you get to see how different people express themselves through music, food, and art.
You can also become personally acquainted with people from different backgrounds by traveling to exotic locations. Here you get to immerse yourself in the culture and you learn first-hand about it by living it.
By exposing ourselves to other cultures, we get the opportunity to interact with people who are different from us. When we are around people from different cultures and interact with them frequently, we can observe and notice moments of tension that may lead to misunderstandings and points of conflict.
Understanding the assumptions that we have which impact our impressions of the outside world
Looking at ourselves as we expose ourselves to different cultural experiences teaches us more about cross-cultural understanding, something we may not get from our knowledge of other cultures.
Our assumptions about communication styles, body language, and other characteristics impact how we view the outside world. This is because our own culture is deeply ingrained that we are usually unaware of its existence, therefore, implicitly expecting the world to reflect our culture at us.
We all have assumptions of certain cultures, and there are stereotypical views of other cultures that might be considered racist in every culture.
When we examine our cultural assumptions, with a bit of self-awareness, we can rouse cultural awareness which makes it easier for cross-cultural relationships to work.
Participating in unconscious bias and harassment training
Unconscious bias, unlike blatant bigotry or explicit bias, is often difficult to spot. This is because it is usually deeply ingrained, unintentional, and is more often than not seen as normal behavior.
There are numerous instances of bias from the way people are treated in the workplace to how different characters are depicted in popular television shows and films. This also influences how we treat others.
Harassment training can help make meaningful changes in the employee’s environment by preventing unconscious bias in the workplace
. This is important because the employees who are usually on the receiving end of unconscious bias are more disengaged at work and less productive.
The training enables the employees to attain higher levels of cultural intelligence by understanding the cultural backgrounds, which helps them to consciously manage their application of bias.
Context and culture are very important aspects of effective communication. This is why, in addition to correct grammar, pronunciation, and vocabulary, it is also important to comprehend the cultural implications in a society when learning their language.
As cultural awareness extends into our everyday life, being able to communicate with global communities is a valuable skill that helps us advance in our careers.
By understanding the differences in ethics, beliefs, values, and attitudes of different individuals and developing cultural awareness, we create a diverse corporate and personal culture that is inclusive and everyone feels like they belong.