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October 16, 2018

Top Cultural Competency Skills You Need to Know

You’ve probably seen advertising blunders that resulted largely from a lack of cultural competency—such as the H&M ad portraying a little black boy wearing a sweatshirt with the inscription “coolest monkey in the jungle.” Equally appalling was Dove’s ad, which featured women of color removing brown clothing to reveal “clean” white women underneath. To be sure, many such companies have learned the hard way that culturally insensitive and offensive advertising is just bad business.

Similarly, as the world becomes increasingly globalized and industries grow more diverse, professionals working in fields such as healthcare, education, law enforcement, and others have also come to realize that their success or failure can hinge on their ability to develop a meaningful understanding of the diverse beliefs, customs, values, and behaviors of people from different cultural backgrounds.

Although appreciating and respecting difference is a good start, it simply isn’t enough to succeed globally. True cultural competency requires skills and behaviors that enable us to engage with others and see the world from their point of view. So what are these skills?

Before we can try to understand and respect cultures other than our own, we must first be able to reflect critically on our own stereotypes, prejudices, and biases. They exist whether we realize it or not.

Active Listening
Though it may seem easy, listening to understand and not just react is a skill that requires careful attention to detail and a nuanced recognition of the culturally-inflected content and emotion involved.

Engaged and Effective Communication
Conversations with people from other cultures should be reciprocal learning experiences. Avoid value-laden statements that reflect your own biases and seek to engage in meaningful communication that gets your point across without resorting to judgments and stereotypes.

Demonstrate Empathy
Simply put, this involves putting yourself in other people’s shoes and seeing the world from their point of view. Empathy doesn’t mean that you have to agree with other people’s viewpoints, but that you can see their position and understand how various life experiences have led them to develop understandings that differ from your own.

Want to amplify your success? The Global Community Engagement program at University College is designed to help students develop these necessary skills. Courses such as Managing Across Cultures, Diversity and Organizational Structure, and Contemporary Racial and Ethnic Relations provide an array of resources for developing and applying cultural competency. Learn more about the Global Community Engagement at or by contacting Enrollment Manager Chris Heriza at

About the Author: Dr. Arianna Nowakowski is the Assistant Director and Teaching Assistant Professor for the Global Community Engagement program at University College. She received her Ph.D. in International Studies from the Josef Korbel School of International Studies at the University of Denver in 2012.


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