Behaviour Change Platform for D&I

3 Ways to Train Cultural Competence

Improve workplace productivity with cultural competence.

Cultural competence is an element of diversity and inclusion linked to increased customer retention and new market opportunities. As companies get more global and countries gain more diversity, understanding and improving cultural competence is a necessary part of professional and business development.

Cultivated over time and continuously tweaked and improved upon, cultural competence is a broad skill set that directly links to inclusion.

What is cultural competence?

Cultural competence is: operational effectiveness methodology applied to knowledge of culture, awareness of one’s own culture and its relativity to others, and sensitivity to cultural difference.

Breaking down cultural competence into its key parts, it is:

  • Human: Knowledge of one’s self and others

  • Action-based: Focused on interaction and how people treat one another

  • Self-aware: Knowledge of how you fit in a given group or context

  • Dynamic: Competence speaks to both individual knowledge and systems organization

Why does cultural competence matter?

Cultural competence is a broad term that applies to multiple facets of inclusion, particularly:

  • Self-awareness

  • Empathy

  • Acknowledging and navigating difference

Self-awareness is linked to multiple productivity boosts in the workplace. According to a study published in Harvard Business Review, self-aware individuals are better decision makers, are more confident, hold higher quality relationships, and are more creative. Another study linked self-awareness to increased productivity because self-aware people know their strengths and weaknesses, and how to play to their strengths.

Empathy can lead to strong outcomes from group discussions. A Forbes study found that inclusive teams - teams that have empathy towards one another and discuss / disagree on ideas, not individuals - generate 60% better results from productive debate.

Acknowledging and navigating difference works in two ways. On one hand, you get the productivity boost that comes from people working well together. On the other, companies with diverse teams that bring different perspectives to the table are more likely to successfully take on new markets, leading to a 19% bump in revenue.

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How businesses can increase cultural competence

Increasing cultural competence takes work, but it is easy to do with commitment. This article will focus on individual actions that lead to more cultural competence, but each one can be extrapolated up to the system level as well.

Increasing self-awareness:

  • When you get a rush of emotion for any reason, good or bad, document the circumstances that caused the rush. This will help you understand the environments that help versus hinder you.

  • Consider undergoing a 360-degree performance review  or psychographic tests like Plum.io or Myers-Briggs to get a better understanding of your fundamental personality traits, strengths, and weaknesses.

  • If you can afford one, hire a performance coach to help you delve deeper into your leadership traits and style.

  • Reflect and journal on the day, writing about things that happened to you and because of you.

  • Pay attention to gut feelings and take small actions based on them. Once you fine-tune your gut feeling and get used to the triggers it provides, follow it more strongly.


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Increasing empathy:

  • Communicate your feelings with others in conversations where appropriate and ask for them to communicate their feelings with you.

  • Attend D&I focused events for communities you don’t belong to as a listener only.

  • Encourage others to speak more in group meetings. Consider a “step up, step back” group agreement where everyone is encouraged to both say their piece but also leave space for others and not dominate the conversation.

  • Read and digest content about personal relationships, whether fiction or nonfiction.

  • Go into every interaction assuming you can learn something from the other person.

Increasing understanding of difference:

  • Self-educate on different cultures through reading, attending events, or watching educational videos.

  • Watch TV shows or movies made in other cultures for entertainment-focused cultural immersion.

  • Work with “N of 1,” treating each person as a totally unique individual. This means you won’t carry assumptions about their identity or experience but instead learn about their background and contextual experiences.

  • Assume best intent. Some cultures have traditions or actions that others deem inappropriate. Before taking offense, assume the person had best intent and engage with them about the discomfort from a place of explaining your feelings and a place of desiring to learn.

  • When you come up against something unfamiliar, write it down so you can ask questions or conduct your own research after the fact.

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Stefan Palios