Knowledge, awareness and acceptance of other cultures.


Cultural differences are everywhere: differences in religion, history, philosophy, beliefs, common practices, political foundations, and economic systems. It’s all too easy to judge a cultural difference in negative terms. The successful cross-cultural leader is able to identify and accept differences and work with all the diversity of cultures within a group.

Why do you pass judgment on your brother? Or you, why do you despise your brother? For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God.Romans 14:10

Skilled Characteristics

  • Empathetic

    Understands and can empathize with differences in people and cultures

  • Understanding

    Is not judgmental about differences in people or their cultures

  • Respectful

    Shows respect for differences among people

  • Language Learner

    Tries to learn the local language

  • Involved

    Participates in and/or learns about the rituals and ceremonies of the local culture

  • Cultural Awareness

    Understands the uniqueness of the local culture and traditions

  • Respect Values

    Understands and acknowledges different value sets

  • Embracing

    Is comfortable working with people from a diversity of backgrounds and cultures

“Sweetest Lord, make me appreciative of the dignity of my high vocation, and its many responsibilities. Never permit me to disgrace it by giving way to coldness, unkindness, or impatience.”

– Mother Teresa

Unskilled Characteristics

  • Single Minded

    Judges differences from a personal or mono-cultural point of view

  • Discomfort

    Uncomfortable with differences among people

  • Dismissive

    Dismisses differences between people or cultures as irrelevant

  • Lacks Effort

    Doesn’t make an effort to understand people’s differences or cultural backgrounds

  • Unengaged

    Turns down invitations to participate in local events, customs or celebrations

  • Value Judgments

    Makes value judgments about the goodness or badness or a group or culture as opposed to just thinking of them as being different

  • Rigid

    Lacks flexibility with the ways things can be done

“The common ground is greater and more enduring than the differences that divide.”

– Nelson Mandela

Causes of Weakness

  • Strong Beliefs

    Very strong beliefs and values that are actually culturally relative

  • Judgmental

    Very judgmental about people and the way they do things, drawing incorrect conclusions about other’s values and beliefs

  • Background

    Narrow or limited education and social diversity background – or limited exposure to other cultures

  • Shy

    Too shy and quiet to get to know people and their cultures

  • Inflexible

    Not flexible in their own ongoing learning or re-learning

  • Closed

    Lacks openness to different ideas or ways of doing things

“A foreign country is a point of comparison, wherefrom to judge his own.”

– Ralph Waldo Emerson


Review the simple application steps below and choose 1 or 2 things you can do to spur yourself on to further growth.

  • Ask Questions

    ASK QUESTIONS ABOUT THE CULTURE: How open versus closed, guarded, or subtle is their communication? What does it mean to treat people with respect? What does it take to gain trust? Are work relationships more personal vs. more formal? What are the prime motivators in this culture? Are people fast or slow in action? What are the common ways of thinking? What is the attitude toward a “good day’s work”? How is a leader expected to act? What are relationships between boss and staff like? What are the lessons of history for this culture, especially their attitudes toward other cultures? What is the general state of the culture (economically, politically, and socially)?

  • Be Aware

    BE AWARE: Be aware that cultural differences truly exist and often have a significant influence on our actions. Recognize and accept that you may not be aware that differences exist about things that you take for granted. We may wrongly assume others think and act like we do. Imagine if you had grown up in a culture other than your own – how you might think differently about such issues as gender, history, religion, food preferences, age, education, race, work ethic, value of education, etc? It is not enough to just know that preferences and attitudes are different; you must also understand how those differences impact how things get done. Expose your thinking to different views. Purchase several international newspapers or magazines and compare articles on a common issue. Above all, listen and accept differences before taking a critical action. So in each situation, ask what cultural differences there are and which ones make a difference and why?

  • Stereotypes

    STEREOTYPES: Understand your own cultural stereotyping. There will always be individuals who are significantly different than the general cultural norm in any country. Look to each person as an individual before you jump to conclusions using country or origin or culture as a base of understanding about them.

  • Diversity

    DIVERSITY = VALUE: Accept that diversity can add value. Diversity of viewpoint, background, education, culture, experience, beliefs, and attitudes matter, and all help produce superior results. Take a current challenge to the most diverse group you can find (a historian, a college student, a theologian, a salesperson, a plumber, etc.) and see what insights they have into it. Find some problems outside of your area and see what value you can add. Attack problems with diverse task forces, pull in the widest array of thinking you can, and see if you get broader, more inventive results. Assemble the most culturally diverse team you can who have the skills to do the job but otherwise are different. Consciously spend more of your time with people who are different. Solicit the points of view of each person. Examine how background differences lead to viewing problems differently.

  • Be a Learner

    BE A LEARNER OF CULTURE: Talk to people in your organization, neighborhood, or place of worship who are culturally different in some way than you. Do lunch. Go to a sports game. Exchange views. Visit cultural events, museums and historical places. Live with a person or family of a different culture for an extended period of time. Learn the language of a culture you want to understand. Read books about other cultures and their history.