The ability to understand and appreciate different cultures
What is it?
Leaders who are culturally sensitive seek to understand and celebrate cultures of many forms. They strive to learn from cultures both similar to and different from what is familiar. Culturally sensitive leaders understand that different cultures each bring unique histories and experiences, which can in turn bring fresh and unique perspectives. Truly culturally-sensitive leaders see different cultures as unique and beautiful in their own right – apart from competitive advantage – and can model this way of thinking for others.
Why is it important?
Cultural sensitivity is more important than ever in an increasingly globalized world. Diversity in all of its forms has become widely celebrated and sought after in organizations today. Diversity of thought, culture, and experience leads to greater creativity and capability amongst employees. However, embracing diversity is also essential when considering the body of people an organization works for. A cultural understanding is imperative when providing excellent care to multiple different groups. And in universally applicable services, such as healthcare, patients will inevitably have differing demographics and certain minority groups. Consequently, today’s leaders need to be prepared to not only celebrate culture, but also to use these unique worldviews to change organizations and communities for the better.
- Seek Out Cultural Experiences
First, seek out a traditional experience that is not typically a part of your native culture. You do not have to fly to a different country to experience culture. One of the benefits of a globalized world is that diverse cultures often exist within close proximity to us. Look for museums, restaurants, sites of religious reverence, or cultural events that stem from a different heritage than your own. Cultivating curiosity is the first step toward appreciating other cultures.
- Converse with Those from Different Cultures
Consider who you know that has a different cultural heritage from you. Invite them to lunch or coffee, and ask genuine questions about their background. Remember to keep the conversation friendly and professional. If you are nervous about diving straight in, ask the person about himself or herself. Inevitably, he or she will weave their culture into their personal story, giving you an opportunity to ask follow-up questions, continuing to cultivate your knowledge and curiosity. Learning about other cultures is most efficiently done by learning about people from that culture. You will also learn more about your friends and colleagues in the process.
- Update Your Sources of Information
Finally, update your news sources. Culture is not only historical but also current. A person’s heritage is often closely linked to the current events within their particular country or demographic. Across the world, different religions, genders, and races assert their viewpoints and discuss their concerns. Staying informed about national and global news can be one of the best ways to increase your cultural sensitivity. Be aware of what is going on in groups of people that aren’t directly related to you – these groups just may be directly tied to the people you are working with and working for.
- Take a Trip
Though we did say you do not have to take a trip to experience diversity, going to another city, region, or country is certainly an immersive way of learning about another culture. Even if you go to another part of town, cultures take on new life outside of books, documentaries, and dining experiences. Go embrace a cohort of people you were not previously familiar with.