Cross-cultural competence pertains to the ability of individuals or groups to interact effectively with those of different ethnical backgrounds and cultural orientations, or in a situation where cultural diversity exists. It incorporates the capacity to understand and recognize another culture’s language, behaviors, values, and policies, and adapt to these variations.
Cultural competence is not something that we can acquire overnight. Having this higher level of human ability is a developmental process which involves a long-term commitment. It is not some kind of training with a specific timeframe of completion; rather it is an interactive and gradual process of learning and practice.
Achieving cultural competence is easier said than done. People can talk about it and the impact it brings to both individual and organizational aspects. But attaining and accomplishing such skill is not easy.
Individuals and organizations interacting and working with various cultural and ethnic backgrounds can achieve cultural competency by going through a three-stage development process: developing cultural awareness, acquiring cultural knowledge, and enhancing cross-cultural skills.
Developing Cultural Awareness
Developing cultural awareness is the initial stage of becoming culturally competent. It basically acknowledges the fact that cultures are diverse and dynamic. It also involves the ability to conduct a cultural self-assessment where individual cultural beliefs, values, and perceptions are evaluated. You can reflect on your own cultural traits and ask yourself self-reflection questions. You might want to reflect on how you see the world, why and how you react to something, and how different your thoughts and actions are from others.
Cultural awareness becomes essential during interaction and socializing with people across cultures. All individuals interpret and perceive things differently. For example, shaking hands may be the tradition in your culture but may not be the same for another culture.
There are steps for developing cross-cultural awareness. First is to admit or acknowledge personal prejudices, biases, and stereotypes. Next is to become aware of the cultural standards, beliefs, and attitudes. Third is to learn how to value cultural diversity. The fourth step is to willingly reach out to the community or the society. And lastly, one must learn how to recognize comfort level in varied situations.
Acquiring Cultural Knowledge
Having cultural knowledge about other cultures is one of the foundations of cultural competence. Apart from recognizing other cultures, understanding how cultural groups view other cultures is also important. After you have learned to conduct a cultural self-assessment, start evaluating other cultures and make a cultural comparison to figure out similarities and differences.
Just as these steps in becoming culturally aware, there are also tips in acquiring cultural knowledge. Initially, you must know how others view or perceive your culture. Since part of knowledge is gained in institutions, it is a good thing to attend seminars, workshops, and classes about other cultures.
Self-learning is very helpful so read about other cultures if you may. Watch movies and documentaries regarding other cultures. Join cultural events and programs. Taking a trip to other countries is also a good learning experience.
Enhancing Cross-Cultural Skills
The last stage in the developmental process of being culturally competent is augmenting and maintaining cross-cultural skills which can be achieved in various ways. One way to do it is through interpersonal interaction with people of other cultures.
Learn to make friends with those coming from other cultures. If you are in an organization, establish good working relationships with others and if possible, learn their language and the way they communicate, both in verbal and nonverbal aspect.
As you immerse and explore your culturally-diverse environment, start to become comfortable in such situations and atmosphere. Learn to be more open and flexible. If you still have existing fears and prejudices, start overcoming them.
Continue to assess your values and beliefs and compare it with others. Learn to develop and evaluate culturally relevant programs and interventions. These skills are acquired over time and achieving these three stages in the process will definitely bring out cross-cultural competence.