• Carlie Sitzman MA, CT

5 Ways to Practice Cultural Awareness



Knowing how to analyze situations in real time to improve cultural awareness is a powerful way to enhance intercultural communication. You don’t have to wait until you are thrown into an intercultural encounter to practice cultural awareness though. Here are five ways to practice cultural awareness in your everyday life, so you can be ready for anything.


1. Question Everything

In order to cultivate a fuller awareness of other cultures, it is important to understand your own. One practical way to heighten awareness of your own culture is to question everything, no matter how simple it might be. Many of the actions you take for granted every day are not strictly necessary. They are the result of environmental influences, cultural preferences, and local trends. Take some time to contemplate the meaning of one simple aspect of your life each day. Your attitudes toward trash is a good example. How do you decide what is trash and what is valuable? Why do you throw all of your trash into the same trash can? Why do you throw it into a trash can at all? Why do you even produce trash? Is it TRULY a matter of practicality or are you simply producing and throwing away trash because that is how everyone else in your country does it? If you are having trouble conceiving of a different way to do something, try searching the internet to find out how this aspect is handled by people in other countries. YouTube videos can be an especially interesting source of information about the lives of people abroad.


2. Learn About Another Culture

The more you know about other countries and cultures, the better you will be at interacting with the people from them. Try researching another country to discover common cultural differences and how people from your own culture typically deal with them. If you can, try immersing yourself in another culture by visiting a foreign country or consuming media from that country. Gaining a deeper understanding of a country and culture can allow you to better understand the environment people of a specific culture are immersed in. With this knowledge in hand, their reactions to specific situations may start to make a lot more sense.


3. Assess the Situation

Successful intercultural communication requires critical thinking and a bit of patience, so don’t take anything at face value. Until you become comfortable communicating with individuals from a specific culture, get in the habit of analyzing the situation using my three questions for increasing cultural awareness. Keep in mind that the other person may not be acting in accordance with all of their cultural norms. They might also be trying to conform to your way of doing things. Try to meet in the middle.


4. Ask for Clarification

When you encounter strange behavior in an interaction, try clarifying what the person meant. This could mean developing your own theory about why they are acting in this manner and testing it through subtle questions and discussion. It could also mean directly asking them why they are doing something. Alternately, you might want to find a tactful way of telling them how you perceive their actions and asking for explanations. If you bring something to their attention, they may be able to describe the meaning of their actions to you in more detail. Some people are aware of specific behaviors that cause problems for intercultural communication, yet subconsciously continue doing them purely out of habit.


5. Relax and Let Go

Before interacting with someone from a different culture, try to accept the fact that the interaction probably will not go as planned. You may get offended. People may not do the things that you consider polite or proper. You may be uncomfortable. And that’s ok. Your cultural norms are valid, but they are also not the only correct way to get things done. Just go with the flow. Try to learn something new and expand your horizons. While cultural differences may be a shock to the system at first, they can also open up a whole new way of seeing the world.


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