By Lindsay Marcaccio

With workforces and clientele highly globalized, companies should no longer ignore the importance of developing cultural competency within their organizations. Especially when communications and marketing success is dependent upon timely messaging being delivered and understood by key audiences. But what exactly is cultural competency and how does one develop it?

Our ability to develop cultural competence is related to our willingness to be genuinely curious about others.

In the article, Cultural Competence from the February 2016 issue of NebGuide, cultural competence is defined as, “the ability of a person to effectively interact, work, and develop meaningful relationships with people of various cultural backgrounds.” It is more than tolerating differences but a genuine interest in trying to understand differences. For communications and marketing professionals, this relates to developing relationships with an understanding of cultural variances of their clientele and audiences.

According to Willliam Yimbo, education specialist for the Office of Equity, Diversity and Inclusion at the University of Calgary, “Cross-cultural communication barriers such as anxiety, uncertainty, stereotyping, and ethnocentrism are caused by inadequate cultural knowledge and the lack of intercultural communicative skills. Adequate training in cross cultural communication, and exposure to other cultures is essential in eliminating these barriers.”

Developing cultural competence is an ongoing process requiring regular check-ins, training and grace for the times when we stumble. Three keys to developing cultural competency are empathy, active listening and engagement. This is by no means an exhaustive list.

Empathy is the ability to understand another person’s perspective and feelings. It does not mean you have to agree with the person, but that you have a willingness to understand and “step into their shoes.” Being empathetic will help you to build relationships with your colleagues and your clients, and help you to understand what messaging will resonate with them.

Active listening is listening to your audiences without distraction or without mentally preparing a response to what you are hearing. Be present, ask genuine questions, and do not present solutions to the problems you claim to understand and know without actually hearing what is being said.

Engagement should be a mutually beneficial learning experience. Focus on asking questions about the behaviour and situation rather than judging a person. You are trying to understand the background of an action or why a behaviour is important in a culture. Keep your judgement out of the process.

We can never achieve perfection when it comes to cultural competence. It’s a lifelong journey affected by those around us, and our willingness to be curious. Developing it is not about overlooking behaviours we don’t approve of; it’s about moving towards a genuine curiosity to understand our differences. Although implementing cultural competency training can benefit the success of a communications and marketing strategy, it should never be viewed as a box to check on an equity, diversity and inclusion checklist.

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