Cultural Awareness, Sensitivity and Competence


The 20th century has seen a steep rise in the levels of diversity on a global scale. Due to the increase in the number of cross-cultural interactions and intensity thereof, the necessity to develop an in-depth and intrinsic understanding of other cultures has emerged (Holland, 2017).

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Indeed, without the ability to avoid culture clashes and the areas that representatives of other ethnicities may find questionable, one is likely to face numerous conflicts, as well as hurt other people’s feelings. Thus, without the promotion of cultural awareness, cultural sensitivity, and cultural competence, interactions in the global environment are doomed to fail miserably. Although the identified notions are often conflated, they, represent different concepts, each being a critical element of the communication process in the modern context.

Cross-cultural communication

The phenomena of cultural awareness, cultural sensitivity, and cultural competence are quite close in what they denote, yet the function of each concept and the ideas that it supports are slightly different. For example, cultural awareness, in its essence, can be described as readiness to accept new cultural knowledge. Being a rather broad term, cultural awareness is the transitional stage in cultural development since it allows one to change their attitudes and perceptions regarding intercultural communication (Repo, Vahlberg, Salminen, Papadopoulos, & Leino-Kilpi, 2017).

Although the described phenomenon does not involve the ability to understand other cultural groups and their needs, it should not be underestimated since it provides the platform for the acquisition of relevant knowledge in the future. Cultural awareness makes one ready to overcome cultural prejudices and accept the differences between one’s own culture and one of the opponents (Holland, 2017).

Compared to cultural awareness, cultural sensitivity is the understanding and acknowledgment of differences between representatives of different cultures without diminishing the value of either (Foronda, Baptiste, Reinholdt, & Ousman, 2016). Cultural sensitivity can be seen as the conception of the ability to discern between unique properties of different cultures. Specifically, when developing basic cultural sensitivity, one recognizes the uniqueness of each culture.

It is noteworthy that cultural sensitivity itself does not imply possessing unique knowledge about other cultures; instead, it is the recognition of intrinsic differences between representatives from different cultural backgrounds that makes the basis of cultural sensitivity. Therefore, the concept of cultural sensitivity can be deemed as the next logical step toward gaining cross-cultural communication skills after developing cultural sensitivity.

Cultural sensitivity helps one to understand what emotional impact certain issues have on representatives of other cultures (Foronda et al., 2016). Furthermore, cultural sensitivity enables one to develop the strategies that will help one to steer a conversation away from the topics that are awkward, unpleasant, or downright offensive to an interlocutor.

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To counteract the threat of a culture clash that one can sense with the help of cultural sensitivity, one will need cultural competence. Representing the third stage of building the ability to communicate in a diverse, multicultural setting, cultural competence is traditionally defined as the ability to use cross-cultural tools for achieving understanding and conveying a particular message to an interlocutor of culturally diverse background (Repo et al., 2017). Garneau and Pepin (2014) define cultural competence as “learning cognitive aspects of culture such as values, beliefs, and traditions of a particular group and applying this knowledge in practice” (p. 9).

Therefore, the third stage enables one to systematize the knowledge that one has gained during the development of cultural awareness and sensitivity, thus helping one to build effective communication strategies and implement them successfully. Moreover, cultural competence suggests that one is capable of discerning the implications of different approaches that can be used to manage communication in different cultural settings.

One should also bear in mind that the definitions for cultural competence as a phenomenon may vary depending on which aspect thereof is critical for the selected area. For instance, in learning, the ability to connect to learners’ perceptions of a particular phenomenon and build a mutual understanding is important, whereas, in nursing, the need to address health disparities caused by cultural misconceptions is typically emphasized (Borrego & Johnson, 2017). Nonetheless, the concept of cultural competence as the general ability to utilize the available cultural knowledge to reach an understanding with an interlocutor remains consistent.

In addition to being used for regular cross-cultural communication, cultural competence is crucial when the need to address a conflict arises. There is no secret that culture clashes are unavoidable in a diverse setting due to the inability to foresee and address every possible misunderstanding that may arise due to differences in worldviews, philosophies, or languages (Repo et al., 2017).

Cultural competence, in turn, can be used to develop a constructive approach toward conflict management and apply negotiation strategies based on compromise and cooperation (Foronda et al., 2016). The described framework involves benefits for all parties involved since it encourages participants to derive important lessons about multicultural communication from their experience, thus shaping their worldview and creating new communication approaches.

Therefore, it is important to view cultural awareness, cultural sensitivity, and cultural competence not as separate notions but as the components of a single phenomenon of multicultural dialogue. The serving as the stages of building cultural knowledge and gaining the skills required to participate in a multicultural conversation, the specified concepts need to be learned since they allow one to engage in a meaningful dialogue with members of other cultures. Thus, each of the three notions is essential nowadays for successful social interactions in any setting. Indeed, due to the globalization process, most environments such as a workplace or school setting have become quite diverse (Borrego & Johnson, 2017).

Gaining cultural competence is currently a requirement for successful social interactions. Furthermore, cultural competence will help one grow personally and professionally by learning more about the needs of different cultural and ethnic groups. The specified process is particularly important for people employed in the healthcare industry, counseling, and any other environment that makes cross-cultural communication critical to the well-being of customers (Holland, 2017). Thus, each of the three stages described above has to be regarded as inseparable parts of the process of cultural, personal, and professional growth and adjustment to the diverse setting of the modern world.

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While the notions of cultural awareness, cultural sensitivity, and cultural competence seem very similar to each other, they are unique concepts that constitute the bulk of cross-cultural communication. With the enhancement of cultural awareness, one can acquire the needed cultural competence to engage in a dialogue with diverse community members, whereas cultural sensitivity will help one to avoid conflicts in a culturally diverse setting.

By integrating the described concepts into the process of cross-cultural communication, one will create a welcoming setting for diverse participants and prevent the harmful impact of biases from affecting the conversation. Moreover, with the enhancement of cultural awareness, cultural sensitivity, and cultural competence, one will build the set for the continuous acquisition of skills for intercultural communication. Thus, the global community will thrive, with its members sharing their experience and learning more about each other to enrich their cultures and support their communities.


Borrego, E., & Johnson, R. G. (2017). Cultural competence for public managers: Managing diversity in today’ s world (2nd ed.). Boca Raton, FL: CRC Press.

Garneau, A. B., & Pepin, J. (2014). Cultural competence. Journal of Transcultural Nursing, 26(1), 9–15. Web.

Foronda, C., Baptiste, D. L., Reinholdt, M. M., & Ousman, K. (2016). Cultural humility: A concept analysis. Journal of Transcultural Nursing, 27(3), 210-217. Web.

Holland, K. (2017). Cultural awareness in nursing and health care: An introductory text. Boca Raton, FL: CRC Press.

Repo, H., Vahlberg, T., Salminen, L., Papadopoulos, I., & Leino-Kilpi, H. (2017). The cultural competence of graduating nursing students. Journal of Transcultural Nursing, 28(1), 98-107. Web.

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StudyCorgi. (2021) 'Cultural Awareness, Sensitivity and Competence'. 20 March.

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