How do you answer the question: “What is cultural awareness?”

The pandemic has changed so much about our work and personal lives. For many of us, working remotely changed from being a quick fix to deal with a pressing problem to becoming a permanent arrangement.

Technological solutions quickly developed to help us get to grips with things. We even invented new verbs, like “to zoom” for video-conferencing.

Our personal lives changed in many ways too. Being exposed to different people and cultures from around the world, albeit remotely, has opened our eyes to how we are both different and the same.

Challenges and opportunities came with these changes. For example, one benefit has been the ability to easily work with, and develop lasting relationships with, people from different countries and cultures. That positive is based on a need to embrace multiculturalism and diversity. So, answering the question: what is cultural awareness? is important to make the best of the new reality.

What is “Culture”?

Before considering cultural awareness, it helps to define “culture” more broadly. This is the social behaviour, customs, and beliefs of a group or society. They develop over time and are passed on through generations in various ways.

Cultural awareness defined

Cultural awareness is the sensitivity to differences and similarities between cultures. It is highlighted in the communication and/or interaction between them. Knowledge and awareness of another culture involves the consideration of each other’s values and attitudes. Among other things, these can be shown by the way we work, worship, speak, dress, eat, and communicate.

By addressing another person’s culture with an attitude of openness and respect, we show the best of ourselves and our own cultural beliefs. We also benefit personally from closer relationships with others, improved consideration and ability at work, and more self-awareness.

How does it help improve cultural competence?

Being culturally aware helps develop our cultural competence. This valuable ability is fostered in two ways. Firstly, when we use empathy to recognise how a person’s perspective is shaped by their own experiences and cultural background. And secondly, when we are mindful of our own cultural assumptions when communicating with others from different cultures.

Combining these two elements helps avoid misunderstandings and failings resulting from preconceived ideas and stereotypes.

Understanding differences between cultures takes effort, but it’s worth it on a personal and professional level. A 2019 Finnish study of hospital nursing staff found that they benefitted from cultural awareness training. The report’s authors said that it helped the nurses recognise their own cultural features, change their thinking where appropriate, and improve communication skills. This, in turn, led to higher quality patient care.

Vital communication skill

Soft skills, such as the ability to think creatively, manage time, and work independently have become essential in today’s world. Arguably the most important of these skills is the ability to communicate. Differences in physical locations, time zones, and even language can be overcome by technology. But without cultural awareness, our ability to understand each other will fall short.