Cultural Competency in Communication

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  • 00:00 Communication and Culture
  • 00:49 Cultural Competency
  • 3:05 Using Cultural Competency
  • 5:07 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Christopher Muscato

Chris has a master's degree in history and teaches at the University of Northern Colorado.

The ability to communicate is pretty important to us. So better communication is even better! Explore how cultural competency can impact positive communication, and test your understanding with a brief quiz.

Communication and Culture

This is Dr. Study.

cultural competency

Dr. Study is a doctor at a very prestigious hospital and he is very proud of his ability to help people. So every day he goes to work, he examines patients, and he cures them. Nice work, Dr. Study!

This is what Dr. Study does every day, and he's very good at it. So why, suddenly, does Dr. Study have a lot of patients who aren't getting better? Dr. Study examined them, he gave them pills to help them with their illness, but this entire group of people just keeps getting sicker and sicker. Why? Did Dr. Study give them the wrong medicine? Is this some rare, unknown disease? No? Then what did he forget? I know - culture!

Cultural Competency

Now, I know what you're thinking: how can culture influence the effectiveness of pills? Well, culture influences a lot of things, and to understand how this works, Dr. Study, we're going to have to put you through cultural competency training.

Cultural competency is the ability to understand, interact, and communicate with people of a different cultural background. In many ways, it's the attempt to improve communication by trying to understand where someone else is coming from. After all, communication is hard if you have different ideas about how to communicate.

Say that one culture is very formal, so greeting rituals are very important and it takes a while to get to the real subject of the conversation. But in another culture, you get straight to the point and save formalities for the end. It's going to be hard for people from these two cultures to interact unless they are able to understand each other's backgrounds.

So here's the basic four-step program for cultural competency:

  1. You need to be aware of your own cultural worldview. So admit the fact that pretty much everything you know is rooted in your own culture.
  2. Accept that other cultures exist, that their worldviews are different than yours, and that your worldview is not inherently better than theirs. All cultures are created, so no one culture is superior, and this is important to remember for achieving healthy communication.
  3. Develop a knowledge of different cultural practices. Now that you recognize another culture, it's time to brush up on the relevant aspects of that culture. And this brings us to number…
  4. Develop cross-cultural communication skills. You've learned about another culture and now you get to practice communicating with them, trying to use your knowledge to see things from their perspectives. This takes time and patience and very often, a professional expert who is fully functional in both cultures. But once you've gotten this down, you can claim cultural competency.

Now, Dr. Study, let's put that competency to use.

Using Cultural Competency

Dr. Study realizes that all of his patients who aren't getting better come from different cultures and decides to improve his cultural competency. So he starts researching the various cultures of his patients and realizes that treating illnesses with pills is a very Western idea of medicine that doesn't fit into his patients' worldviews. Some of his patients are taking the pills and burning them as offerings to spirits. Others are refusing to take them because the elders in their communities have not blessed them. Others open up the pills and pour the ingredients into a tea.

Now, before you laugh, these are all real examples. Western medicine is actually very weird by world standards in that it's one of the few to treat disease purely as a physical condition, as opposed to also a being spiritual or emotional condition. So Dr. Study realizes that, while he still needs to get his patients to take their medicine, he also needs to help communicate how it works through their worldviews.

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