Maryland Positive Behavior Support Training

Learning About & Celebrating Cultural Differences

A group of three people from different cultures working together.

Each person grows into adulthood in different ways based on their childhood history, the values that people around them share, the settings where they live, and their community. As humans, we are not always aware of how these cultural differences impact our responses to others. It is important to be open to learning about how other people view the same events and every day interactions. Each person’s values and history impact how they understanding and think about these events. For example, in some families, active and loud debates are encouraged and valued while in others disagreeing loudly may be viewed as sign of disrespect. Being person centered means that we actively listen to and learn from each other so that we can understand each other better.

An important goal is to avoid exerting power over someone in ways that create anger or frustration or that deliver unintentional messages that are negative resulting in someone feeling devalued or ignored. Being culturally responsive means that we are aware of our own values and identity and are actively learning about the different cultures and viewpoints from others. We convey respect for each person's perspective by actively listening and asking questions that help us understand each other. The ability to convey this respect for the opinions of other people is an important part of being culturally responsive.

There is a growing awareness that when one cultural group is larger than others and includes more people who hold the same values, that group decisions can be made without always considering the values, needs, and differences of people who represent diverse cultural values from smaller subgroups. When this imbalance creates equity issues for people in smaller cultural groups, it can result in systemic racism. This means that an organization’s policies, hiring and promotion processes, and other management decisions may benefit certain groups of people while making it harder for other people from different cultures to succeed.

Many organizations offer annual diversity trainings for staff but do not provide the ongoing actions that are needed to make real change. Ideally, ongoing events that focus on building culturally responsive practices include creating activities that give people time to discuss and reflect on their values and to share how these values impact their work. These types of activities help people make changes in their day-to-day routines in ways that are more culturally responsive. Organizations that are building culturally responsive work environments create action plans to change policies, review data, celebrate diversity in different ways, and design ongoing learning opportunities.

Cultural responsiveness means that:

  • Cultural values and viewpoints are explored in ways that celebrate and embrace diversity and differences
  • Problem-solving strategies are used to explore differences in cultural viewpoints and prevent systemic racism
  • Ongoing learning opportunities encourage dialogue, reflection, and respect for others
  • Everyone in a setting learns to assume that their values and viewpoints may not be shared by others and that it is okay to have these different opinions
  • Opportunities to practice empathy are encouraged
  • Self-awareness and forgiveness are valued as people learn more about each other
  • Diversity is actively sought out and cultures are celebrated