By Linda S. Wallace, The Cultural Coach

As people develop cultural competency, fascinating changes can occur. We may make friends with people who don’t share our political views. We may expose ourselves to a wider range of news articles and talk shows. We may generate opportunity by expanding business relationships and social networks.

In my case, even my dreams began to change. Strangers in a variety of shapes, religions and skin colors began popping up in my nightly dramas. My supporting casts of characters have become increasingly interesting and diverse.

Cultural competence, you see, is its own reward. Our new cultural skill sets provide us with the tools to unlock closed minds and doors. They unleash our inner creativity by tearing down boundaries that often hold us back.

Cultural competence is a set of skills, techniques and practices that enable people to deal effectively with gender differences, cultural nuances and religious values. It equips us to grasp life’s ambiguities. As we grow, we eagerly view problems through a variety of cultural lenses, which empowers us to resolve conflicts and challenges.

Our reaction to cultural competency generally has a lot to do with how far along we already are in our journey. People who regularly study and practice the techniques required to work well with other cultural communities are better prepared to handle life’s sticky situations.

Every now and then, it is important for us to gauge where we stand. Culturally competent people are:

• Emotionally aware. They recognize that cultural situations, events and words will sometimes distort their judgment or view.

• Emotionally controlled. They make an effort to control and monitor their emotions whenever their cultural shades pop on.

• Reflective. Apply learned techniques and strategies to assess and improve effectiveness.

• Self-sufficient. Easily identify the special skills needed to interact effectively with other cultures.

• Culturally agile. Willing to view situations through the cultural lenses of other peoples and nations. As they gather facts, they put these lessons to work for them.

• Empathetic. Will sense and respond to the emotions of colleagues.

• Patient. Willing to understand those who are slow or resistant learners.

• Skillful communicators. Hold productive conversations that allow a variety of beliefs and insights to emerge and be fully debated.

• Principle-centered leaders. They draw upon cultural competency in moments of crisis and racial, ethnic or religious tension.

• Culturally literate. Regularly seek knowledge and information about a diversity of cultures and special populations.

• Tolerant of ambiguity. They recognize and accept that ambiguity exists.

• Willing to share mistakes. They are mindful that mistakes can lead to growth and skill development.

• Leaders who model behavior. Lead by modeling the appropriate behavior for colleagues, friends and neighbors.

• Skilled facilitators. Willingly share cultural perspectives with people outside of their own cultural group.

• Able to tolerate moderate levels of conflict. They view conflict and tension as learning laboratories for skill development.

(Linda S. Wallace is