Competent interaction with an individual is rooted in an effort to understand the context in which the individual is situated. Context in this instance refers to the values, beliefs and norms that are part of identity and perspective, as well as any other relevant factors in the person’s social environment. When we respond to new situations and people by being alert to the possibility that we may not know everything we need to know, that there is always a context to learn, then we are more likely to notice and respond appropriately and respectfully to difference.
Contextual understanding evolves through dialogue, respectful inquiry and mutual exchange. It does not require us to be experts about all cultures, communities and social groups. Rather, it is an attitude, a stance and a skill set with which one can approach all new situations and through which we can recognize, understand and accommodate differences (see Miyanda).