Cultural sensitivity is the key to your company's success in the marketplace. As the world becomes more interconnected and globalized, communicating with employees, stakeholders and customers from diverse backgrounds is an essential skill to master. As simple as it may sound, cultural sensitivity is often hard to develop. People are usually prone to think about things in ways that are familiar. Being confronted with new ideas and new ways of doing things can pose a challenge. Nonetheless, the importance of cultural sensitivity in business cannot be overstated.

What is Cultural Sensitivity?

Cultural sensitivity is being aware that both cultural differences as well as cultural similarities exist between people and that these differences and similarities can affect attitudes, behaviors and communication styles. Cultural sensitivity is often used as a synonym for cultural awareness, which refers to the ability to place yourself in the shoes of another. Being culturally sensitive means being able to understand why another person thinks or experiences things differently than you.

What It Matters to Business

Business owners and managers typically have set ways of doing things -- habits, customs and patterns of behavior. In many ways this is understandable. Policies and processes keep a business running in proper order. However, it is also common in the business world to encounter persons from different cultural, religious and social backgrounds. These people may have different ways of doing business and of communicating their ideas. What may be normal or acceptable to one businessperson may seem counterproductive or unusual to another. When communicating with individuals from a different background, being culturally sensitive allows you to be aware of their customs and beliefs and to respect them.

Cross-Cultural Awareness

Cultural sensitivity is also important when planning a business' cross-cultural advertising programs and its tactics for selling to customers from different backgrounds. In marketing, for instance, cultural sensitivity allows you to market products in a way that is respectful of diversity. It may be relatively easy to remember not to offend customers or clients based on their race or ethnicity, but other factors such as gender, sexual orientation, social class and even religion are just as important.

Practice Makes Perfect

It takes practice in order to successfully integrate cultural sensitivity into business dealings. Even people who are quite open-minded and culturally aware sometimes find it difficult to open their minds to new ideas. Thinking of cultural sensitivity as an issue of respect can help build an appreciation for cultural and social differences. Everyone wants to feel respected and remembering the old maxim, "do unto others as you would have them do unto you," is perhaps the biggest key in developing and nourishing cultural sensitivity.