Many years ago, the subject of cultural sensitivity was usually only relevant for business owners or managers who were involved in international business, who worked in border cities, or who worked in large cities. The average person conducting business in a small to medium size town wasn’t likely to do business with anybody who did not have a similar cultural background to them. Today, all of that has changed. Populations are becoming more and more diverse, even in small towns. Then, there is the internet. Business owners who interact with customers via the internet are sure to have customers, vendors, and other business associates from a variety of cultural backgrounds. The challenge for business owners today is in building and maintaining positive relationships.
What is cultural sensitivity?
Culture sensitivity is simply maintaining an awareness of culture differences without making value judgments about those differences. This goes hand and hand with cultural awareness, which is educating oneself about specific cultural differences and applying that knowledge to personal and business relationships.
What can a business owner do to create a business atmosphere that welcomes all cultures?
There are two things that must be considered. The first is ensuring that employees feel as if they are valued and respected, regardless of their background. The second is ensuring that customers and vendors are made to feel valued, respected, and welcome no matter what their cultural background is. Here are some steps to follow in order to encourage culturally sensitive interactions among employees:
- A zero tolerance policy must be put into place when it comes to racial, ethnic, and other offensive slurs. This policy should include offensive remarks made between members of the same culture, and those made under the guise of being humorous.
- Corporate dress codes should not infringe on an employee’s right to wear clothing or hairstyles that are dictated by their cultural backgrounds. The only exceptions to this are matters of safety. Then, even in these cases, an effort should be made to accommodate.
- Employees should never be allowed to mock another employee’s dress, appearance, food choices, or religious practices. There should be a policy in place that allows employees to file grievances if they feel as though they have been harassed or belittled due to their religious or ethnic background.
Here are a few steps to help ensure that customers of all backgrounds feel valued and welcomed:
- Train staff members to treat each customer as an individual. Remind them that two individuals from the same culture may be very different in the ways that they practice their cultural traditions or whether they practice those traditions at all. Further, employees should be cautioned against allowing stereotypes to influence the way they interact with customers.
- One difference that is frequently an issue when interacting with customers from other cultures are language differences. Employees must handle these situations gracefully. This means never making a customer feel belittled for struggling to communicate. If there are large numbers of community members who speak another language, employees should be encouraged to learn some helpful phrases to facilitate positive interactions. Ideally the cost of this training would be covered by the employer.
- Beyond language differences, there are other cultural differences that should be considered. This can include expectations of personal space, body language interpretation, and even facial expressions. Employees should take cues from customers, never make assumptions, and simply ask questions if they are confused by an interaction.
In some cases, a business owner may visit the home or business place of a client from a different cultural background. How should he or she behave?
First, if the business owner is aware of the specific cultural background, it helps do a little bit of research. This will help them understand what to expect and enable them to prepare for the visit. The bottom line is showing respect to the host and their culture. Some differences to be prepared for are, removing shoes before entering the home or business, wearing a head covering, sitting on the floor for meals, and eating meals that exclude specific types of food. Greetings and farewells are another important topic to consider. Learning the accepted way to greet someone from another culture is a great way to demonstrate respect towards them.
It is also important to remember that members of other cultures want to share that culture with other people, and in most cases they also want to learn about one’s own culture and traditions. When visiting someone from a different culture, it is perfectly acceptable to ask questions about food, dress, artwork etc.. Just make sure that the questions are asked in a sensitive manner with the genuine intention of learning. Also, expect to answer cultural questions. These interactions can go a long way towards building long term business relationships and even friendships.
Finally, the impacts of operating a business on the principal of being culturally sensitive are great. These practices will result in customers, employees, and business associates who are happy to engage in business with and work for one’s company.
This post is written by Laura Callsen
Laura Callisen is a wide-range blogger and editor at
where she is posting articles on various thematics but originally her primary interests are philosophy, education and cultural traveling. Cultural differences play much role in marketing therefore Laura is interested in some ethnical and social marketng aspects.