What is Cultural Agility?

Cultural agility is a vital component living and working meaningfully in a global society. The ability to listen, communicate, understand, and respond authentically across boundaries of difference is what enables people to be effective and respectful global citizens.

Gaining cultural agility is not an end-goal, but rather a life-long, continuous journey that presents new ideas, knowledge, and challenges every day. While people who actively strive toward cultural agility do become more agile over time, since culture and society are constantly changing, the quest for more agility will always remain a quest.

Enriching Leadership International identifies six skills necessary to work toward cultural agility: awareness; being attuned; adapting; being authentic; acquiring knowledge; and self-assessing.

In terms of cultural agility, the skill of awareness requires you to be aware of your own cultural framework and biases so that you can see them at work in various situations.

Being attuned means having the ability to notice and, more importantly, acknowledge the varied culturally-situated nuances in a given situation.

Once you are aware and attuned, you can begin to adapt your own behaviors, mannerisms, and communication style in ways that will allow you to more effectively engage with the varied cultural nuances of a situation and therefore more effectively build inter-personal relationships and communicate within this situation.

It is important to remember as you adapt to also be authentic. In order to truly work toward cultural agility, you must navigate cross-cultural communications and interactions as yourself. If you are not authentic, you aren’t genuinely engaging the situation or the people within it and may come across as rude or condescending and are unlikely to be able to make meaningful connections or communicate effectively with others.

As you authentically interact with a wide array of people, you will acquire more knowledge about various cultures and groups. This knowledge will allow you to be more aware and attuned and increase your capacity to adapt authentically.

Self-assessment–or the process of continually asking how am I doing? and what could I be doing better?–is the skill I feel is the most important in acquiring increased cultural agility. The willingness to honestly self-assess your ability to connect and communicate across cultural and group boundaries is essential in ensuring that culturally agility remains a journey rather than a destination.