Cultural Competency in Practice: How to Become Culturally Competent

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What is cultural competence?

The definition of cultural competence isn’t a mysterious code that will reveal hidden treasure. The real treasure is obvious—cultural competence is the will and actions of individuals and communities to respect, understand, and celebrate the cultural backgrounds and differences of others. It seeks to address injustices, racism, exclusion, and inequality. 

But it’s not just people of color or unique cultures. Cultural competence involves all individuals with disabilities, non-traditional sexual orientations and identities, and members of other marginalized groups. 

It’s through cultural competence that you learn how to trust others. It’s how you learn to respect diversity, equity, and fairness, ultimately striving for social justice. 

Cultural competence involves being aware of one’s own worldview, developing a positive attitude toward cultural differences, gaining knowledge of different cultural perspectives and viewpoints, and finally, developing communication skills that value everyone. 

Those who are culturally competent honor the histories, cultures, languages, traditions, and other practices, knowing they add to the vibrant nature of life. Although understanding the concepts isn’t challenging, putting them into practice can be. In this article, we explore how to implement cultural competence into your own life. 

A leader needs to be an example of cultural competence for the rest of the organization. Coach Diversity Institute’s executive coaching program helps position your leaders as beacons of diversity and inclusion. We help provide the skills they’ll need to lead diverse teams effectively!   

Cultural Competence in Practice

Cultural competence comprises attitudes, skills, and knowledge of individuals and communities. To ensure a constant evolution of cultural competence takes place, we need to foster secure, respectful, and reciprocal relationships. Let’s evaluate the various levels of cultural competence from individuals to society. 

Individual Level

Before creating sustained cultural competence on a large scale, we must start with the individual. Cultural awareness at an individual level means having self-awareness of implicit biases and a dedicated effort to understand different cultural backgrounds. That effort includes self-assessment during interactions, challenging personal notions or experiences, and crafting partnerships with individuals from different cultures.  

Every great movement starts with empowered individuals. Coach Diversity Institute’s individual programs bridge the gap between motivated and educated. Individuals can become a certified diversity coach, which helps improve service and system-level experiences. 

Service Level

A more expansive level of cultural competence is the service level. This level encompasses the internal cultural knowledge of your organization. It means utilizing cultural skills to navigate interactions within the workplace. At this level, cultural competence involves management, decision-making team members, and business leaders working together to ensure the environment is diverse, inclusive, and equitable. 

At the service level, individuals of various demographics, socioeconomic positions, or cultural groups can experience discrimination, bias, or harassment through an organization’s practices, policies, expectations, and procedures. Lack of cultural competence at the service level impacts education, health outcomes, and workplace opportunities. 

Broader System Level

At the broadest level, we have a structure of systematic service-level entities and individuals that come together to form a society. This level represents the most significant struggle for cultural competence as the disparities people of diverse cultures experience come from community agencies and local community protocols, such as law enforcement or healthcare. 

By valuing the importance of cultural competence, we can begin to chip away at behaviors and actions that impact so many. For example, we can improve healthcare delivery through cultural humility, provide translators to individuals with language barriers, and design treatment plans that align with cultural preferences.

How to Become Culturally Competent

Being culturally competent is demonstrating an ongoing commitment to developing the skills needed to combat disparities. It starts with a strong understanding of one’s own culture and blind spots and continues by being an example of cultural competence to others. Those most culturally competent recognize how crucial it is to ensure everyone has a strong sense of identity and belonging. Here’s how you can be culturally competent! 

1. Listen well.

The ability to listen effectively is an essential quality for any relationship. To be a more culturally competent individual, put aside your urge to respond, apply input, or share commentary when others are speaking, especially those individuals from diverse groups. Set aside the discomfort that comes from not speaking and focus on what the other person is saying instead. 

Intercultural conversations are more impactful when asking questions. So ask and listen with the intent to understand, not to respond. Practice active listening and use follow-up questions when you need help comprehending something. These questions should be “why” questions, such as “why is this festival significant for your culture?” In healthcare, listening improves public health as providers can understand the needs of a community more effectively. 

2. Pay close attention.

Humans have become less connected in part due to technology. Social media’s life-draining impact on our mental health also deteriorates our connection with those from different cultural backgrounds. To become more culturally competent, disconnect from these distractions, make eye contact with others, smile, say “hi!” and listen to the person in front of you. Engage the conversation by asking questions and relating their experiences with your own. 

3. Empathize with others.

To empathize with others is to see and feel situations from another person’s point of view. It’s the whole “walk a mile in your shoes” deal. By understanding the perceptions and conclusions others make about life experiences, you can begin to comprehend why cultural diversity is invaluable. You don’t have to agree with everything, but a basic understanding and respect go a long way toward building healthy relationships. 

4. Express genuine interest.

Culturally competent individuals don’t wait for initiatives to tell them to value diverse groups. To become more culturally competent, express a genuine interest in other’s ethnic backgrounds and cultures. You can learn about new cultures and lifestyles through meals, language exchange, festival celebrations, music, dances, and entertainment. Not only are these activities fun and spice up life, but they can help you open your mind to new people and experiences. 

Increase Cultural Competency at Your Organization with Coach Diversity Institute

Today more individuals are standing up and sharing their voices, paving the way for change. That change is cultural competence. Cultural competence is being aware of how perceptions and implicit biases impact those from different backgrounds. It’s celebrating the value other cultures bring to our own and learning from our past misconceptions. A few critical practices can help anyone transition into a competent individual and help eliminate discrimination. 

Of course, not everyone can do it alone. That’s why Coach Diversity Institute offers resources, such as diversity coach programs, books, and cultural competence training. Each system provides tools and skills you can use to navigate situations involving cultural discrimination.

Each Coach Diversity program has International Coaching Federation accreditation to boost your authoritative standing. Coach Diversity has the expertise to educate individuals, C-Suite executives, and entire teams on the importance of cultural competence. Don’t wait any longer to start making a difference, and partner with Coach Diversity Institute today.