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What Does ‘Cultural Awareness’ Mean?


Let's explore the definition of cultural awareness.

Within the training, education and research fields you will hear many terms, sometimes used interchangeably.

'Cultural awareness', 'cultural competence', 'intercultural sensitivity' and 'cultural intelligence' are but some of the many examples.

All have slightly different meanings depending on who is using them, however, for the sake of brevity we are only going to be looking at the term ‘cultural awareness’ and our specific definition, as opposed to anyone else’s.


An Awareness of the Impact of Culture

For many people, there is no real need to think about culture much.

They don’t analyse their assumptions, behaviours, preferences and prejudices and say to themselves, “oh! I can see how my culture has influenced me in this way”.

Very few of us do. And as a result, when these people find themselves dealing with someone from a different culture, they can make some bad judgements or decisions.

We all wear a pair of lenses, which we call the Cultural Lens. These shape how we see the world around us and if we are not aware of this, that’s when bad decisions can have negative consequences.

The world is littered with examples of where ‘culture has gone wrong’.

Here are some examples below if you want to find out more:

A Basic Definition of Cultural Awareness

  1. Cultural awareness is firstly about raising people’s awareness of the influences and impacts of culture on how we do things, whether that be how we eat, communicate or go about our work.
  2. Secondly, cultural awareness means being self-aware. You might not know much about other cultures, but if you at least know about your own and how it shapes you, this is a huge step in the right direction when it comes to working with people from other cultures.
  3. Thirdly, being culturally aware also means you respect others’ cultures and understand that not everyone in the world does things “like we do”.

It’s also important to state that cultural awareness does not mean an ability to work and communicate comfortably across all cultures. This would be termed, Cultural Competence or Cultural Intelligence.

However, cultural awareness is the starting point for those who do eventually reach such levels of competence.

Why Do People Need Cultural Awareness?

Well, there are many reasons why everyone should have some sort of awareness of culture.

For one, it helps people understand themselves better; their psychology, their weaknesses and how to grow as a person.

It also helps with areas such as communication, problem-solving, cognitive flexibility and decision making.

Within the professional realm, there are plenty of people that find cultural awareness positively impacts their roles including teachers, medical staff, business professionals and diplomats.

In fact, anyone with any level of cultural diversity within their roles will benefit as cultural awareness is about helping people get along without confusion, misunderstandings of poor decisions getting in the way.

How Can I Learn About Cultural Awareness?

If you want to learn more about culture, how it works and how it influences communication and how we work, then we have some great resources for you.


  • We have our free self-study guide to cultural awareness which you can download here. This is great for people new to the topic who want some initial pointers. It covers lots of areas such as communication.
  • We also have a free sample version of our Cultural Awareness eLearning course available. You can watch it below or over on the course page where you can also upgrade.

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