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Tool #1: Exercise - Building Cultural Competence

Answer each of these questions, and then form small groups for discussion. The questions ask about aspects of culture.
Answer each question for yourself (personally) and then for a local community you may be familiar with.
In the small groups, use your answers to discuss either Option A or Option B.

Option A: Reflect on how you would use your understanding of your culture and that of the local community to establish a relationship with people in the local community.

Option B: Reflect on how you would use your understanding of your culture and that of the local community to design an intervention intended to benefit people in the local community

  • What is your self-identity? (e.g. female, Hispanic, professional)
  • Who resides in the community served by the organization?
  • What historical events have shaped your life experiences?
  • What have your life experiences been like? (e.g. success, inequity)
  • What is valued? (e.g. respect, responsibility, pride, self-determination, interdependence)
  • Valued differences from others?
  • What gives you a sense of belonging? (e.g. religion, occupation, history)
  • Valued relationships between people, genders, generations?
  • Valued religious beliefs?
  • What language is used?
  • What are important customs?
  • Valued emotions?
  • Important beliefs for solving problems? (e.g. federal government, local community)
  • Valued institutions? (e.g. school, church)
  • Important features of family?
  • Valued features of marriage?
  • Most valued form of social organization?
  • Value of formal education?
  • Most valued community unit? (e.g. neighborhood, city, county)
  • Attitudes about others or outsiders helping to solve problems?
  • Attitudes about solving problems myself?
  • Most valued help-giving person?
  • Economic conditions?

If I cannot answer these questions -- how would I obtain information to understand more about these cultural issues?

Tool #2: Personal Competencies

Be nonjudgmental.

This means shutting down the tendency to view another person in a negative light or viewing them with disfavor.

Be flexible.

This means readjusting quickly and effectively to changing situations.

Be resourceful.

Know how to quickly get the things you need to respond well to any situation.

Personalize observations.

Express your personal feelings, thoughts, ideas, and beliefs in a warmly personal way whether or not they are the same as someone else's. Use "I-messages" rather than "you-messages" (e.g. "I disagree" rather than "You're wrong."). Repeat back what you are hearing in conversation ("Am I hearing you say?"). Listen actively by giving verbal indicators regularly while in conversation ("Uh huh" or "yes.")

Pay attention to your feelings.

Take your feelings seriously and keep in touch with how you feel about what the other person is saying in conversation. You put yourself in better charge of yourself and in better command of the interpersonal situation.

Listen carefully and observe attentively.

This helps increase sensitivity to the whole message and not just what is being said in words.

Assume complexity.

Recognize in an ongoing way that in a culturally diverse environment, perspectives and outcomes are multiple.

Tolerate the stress of uncertainty.

In an overlap with #3, avoid showing irritation or annoyance in a culturally diverse situation.

Have patience.

It's a positive way to respond to stress.

Manage personal biases.

Look beyond your personal view so that you can treat the person with you as an individual.

Keep a sense of humor.

Cultivate an awareness of the absurdity that often is part of differences converging. Avoid taking yourself so seriously that you can't laugh at yourself.

Show respect.

Go out of your way to express in a genuine manner your understanding, honor, and esteem of the person with whom you are dealing.

Show empathy.

Put yourself in the other person's shoes. This is critical in the culturally diverse encounter.

Tool #3: Inclusivity Checklist

Use this checklist to measure how prepared your organization is for multicultural work, and to identify areas for improvement. If you cannot check off an item, that may indicate an area for change.

  • The leadership of our organization is multiracial and multicultural. (A complication of this issue would be if the target population of an organization is not multiracial or a minority, and with prejudiced attitudes, too. It doesn't mean that multiracial leadership and staff shouldn't be hired, but that they should be prepared for some "hard traveling" for a time. Minority staff members might need to be tough, courageous, and patient, no matter how much support they have.)
  • We make special efforts to cultivate new leaders, particularly women and people of color.
  • Our mission, operations, and products reflect the contributions of diverse cultural and social groups.
  • We are committed to fighting social oppression within the organization and in our work in the community.
  • Members of diverse cultural and social groups are full participants in all aspects of our organization's work.
  • Speakers from any one group do not dominate meetings.
  • All segments of our community are represented in decision making.
  • There is sensitivity and awareness regarding different religious and cultural holidays, customs, recreational preferences, and food preferences.
  • We communicate clearly, and people of different cultures feel comfortable sharing their opinions and participating in meetings.
  • We prohibit the use of stereotypes and prejudicial comments.
  • Ethnic, racial, and sexual slurs or jokes are not welcome.

Tool #4: Cultural Diversity Barriers: 5 Assumptions in U.S. Mainstream Culture

There are many barriers to building cultural awareness, cultural sensitivity, and cultural competence in organizations. Awareness of the following themes is key in overcoming cultural barriers.

The United States is a "level playing field" for someone, no matter what his or her culture.

In the U.S. socialization process (and other Western countries) schools and media regularly project institutions as being "color-blind" and present the culture as being fair to everyone (a so-called "level playing field"). The assumption is that if someone doesn't succeed it is because they are lazy or have personal faults -- and that it is the fault of the individual and not the mainstream culture.

Americans don't have a culture.

This is an unconscious norm for mainstream American culture, based on the Wild West pioneer philosophy of the "rugged individual" -- we are "lone rangers" who can self-determine our fate, unaffected by a larger influence. Even though this may be the land of myth and fantasy, many people live there.

If it's different, it's wrong.

This assumption has been referred to as racism, but relates to many "antis", such as anti-Semitism, and to anti-immigrant, anti-Catholic, and anti-non-white biases. The popular belief in the race concept dates back to at least 1600 when Europeans built overseas empires in the Americas, Asia, and Africa. The race concept supported the decimation and impoverishment of the people on these continents.

You shouldn't talk about cultural diversity.

This assumption is based on the policy of "Anglo conformity," which seems ironic in light of the "rugged individual" mindset previously mentioned. Many think that if you talk about cultural differences it perpetuates problems and is "divisive" -- and just brings up problems that are already solved. It also involves the concept of invisibility -- if you don't talk about different groups, they aren't there. This approach included the forced assimilation of many groups including Native Americans and African Americans. This assimilation has brought about a loss of cultural heritage, other than European.

You shouldn't admit to being prejudiced.

This is another age-old approach. If you don't admit to even a perception of prejudice or institutional and system inequities, it supports the idea that life is on a level playing field -- and then you don't have to do anything about it.

Tool #5: Tips for Accessing and Involving People of Color in a Significant Way

(adapted from Telesford, 1994)

Identify community leaders.

These natural leaders can be found in churches, schools, public housing project resident councils, Head Start programs, day care programs, senior citizen centers, teen parent programs, or neighborhood watch organizations.

Respect geographic neighborhood boundaries.

Work with community leaders to identify geographic boundaries that residents respect. While one community might regard its boundaries as extending five or six blocks, a public housing complex may regard the boundaries of its neighborhood as the boundary of the housing facility.

Meeting sites, times, and dates

Hold meetings within each of the identified geographic neighborhoods in a location accessible by walking or public transportation. People may fear muggings after dark, so schedule meetings between 4:30 and 7:00 p.m. if possible. Due to church activities, Sunday is often not a good day for meetings.


For those who have them, telephones and regular mail delivery are good methods for publicizing upcoming meetings. For those without those resources, fliers in Laundromats, clinics, churches, schools, grocery stores, public transportation stops, and day care centers are a good idea. Announcements can be made at PTA, church, Head Start, and resident council meetings. Public service announcements can be placed on local radio and television stations. Individuals can be encouraged to spread the word.


Publicity and fliers should announce that childcare and food will be provided.

Identification of issues

Ask the people and groups you want to involve what they consider to be the important issues and what they want from an initiative -- don't just assume you know what their issues are and assign issues to them.

Prompt follow-up

Follow up the first meeting with a second meeting within the next month. Do not let time pass or the momentum will be lost. The sooner organization members can address identified issues, the sooner they will develop an appreciation of the group and its investment in success.


It is the challenge of the empowerment process to help participants feel good about themselves and channel positive energy into action that will improve their lives.


Out of the increasing sense of empowerment will hopefully come collaborative working relationships among many cultural groups and participation in community-based decision making.

Tool #6: Culturally Effective Communication

Communication is an essential skill in any cultural competent organization. It is important to identify belief systems of all cultural groups in order to spot blocks to communication.


Inability to accept another culture's world view. ("My way is best.")


Differential treatment of an individual due to minority status, actual and perceived. ("We just aren't equipped to serve people like that.")


Generalizing about a person while ignoring the presence of individual differences. ("She's like that because she's Asian -- all Asians are nonverbal.")


Differences are ignored and one proceeds as though differences do not exist. ("There 's no need to worry about a person's culture -- if you're sensitive you'll do OK.")


Belief that everyone should conform to the majority. ("We know what's best for you. If you don't like it you can go elsewhere.")

Concepts for bridging cultural differences (ETHNIC)

  • Everyone has a culture.
  • Take time to collect relevant cultural information.
  • Hold all judgments. Be careful about interpreting culturally different behavior.
  • Notice and negotiate differences in understanding.
  • Involve cultural resources as appropriate.
  • Collaborate to develop objectives and strategies.