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Cross-cultural communication

29 Nov 2016Health Essays

In most health sectors if not all, health professionals who include doctors and nurses among the others work with a variety of people from diverse cultural backgrounds who naturally have different communications styles. Trust, respect and awareness are required to develop a person’s skills of communicating in an effective way with people who are from a different culture. To be an expert public health officer, one should be competent when working with not only people from his culture but also those from a different one because proficiency is not static but continuously developing and in the process adapting and refining skills (Chong-hee Lieu, 2007).

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Cross-cultural communication incorporates tales and analogies as an alternative to using the linear approach of scientists. A patient feels at ease with the health professional so much that he can tell him intimate things about his life and the health officer will be able to respond after attentively listening to the story will respond and be able to fill in the items suitably and be able to gather the required information. In the process of learning about a different culture and their way of communication, a health officer will learn and adopt similar posses that are there in a language when speaking to people of that culture. In that way, they will avoid instances where some actions mean different things in another culture, for instance there are cultures where direct gazes into one’s eyes is looked at as insulting and impertinent, knowledge of this will make such cases not happen (Chong-hee Lieu, 2007).

Cross-cultural communication breakdowns can occur in the health care environment in a number of ways. For starters, there can be a situation where language is a barrier. The patient may not be able to communicate in English. This is very exasperating to both the patient and the officer since they are unable to communicate with each other. The breakdowns will impair satisfactory service to be provided because, the private and classified information that is to be exchanged as it is supposed to be in a successful clinical encounter is not possible.

Social and cultural difference can also be a source of communication breakdown and end up affecting the clinical interaction. The background of the patient and the health officer may be uniquely different and interpret different things about that person to the other. The patient can feel demoralized by an aspect of the doctor’s culture that is displayed by the doctor that may end up deflating the trust and collaboration that is necessary for the treatment and therapy to be successful (Chong-hee Lieu, 2007).

There are techniques for improving cross-cultural communication in a healthcare setting and they include:

  1. Writing the agreements that have been agreed upon in simple English. This way the patient will have the message translated to him by a family member or a trusted friend thus easing the communication.
  2. Incase there is some doubt in terms of comprehending a message, repeating it is key. As a health officer you should use a phrase like "Let me go through that again just to make certain" so as to avoid embarrassments
  3. Be keen for non verbal sign because they can show lack of understanding. Signs like nodding the head incessantly or awkward smiling can be a way of communicating.
  4. Acknowledging that you do not understand the language very well, encourages the patient to explain and ask questions making it easy and sparing him the embarrassment of not being the only one who has understanding issues (Chong-hee Lieu, 2007).

According to research, some deaf patients said that their nurses are culturally insensible. This is because they were unsuccessful in maintaining a face to face contact hence not able to express clearly when communicating with the deaf. ASL being dissimilar from English in that it has unique syntaxes makes it difficult especially when the nurses translate ASL directly from English (Chong-hee Lieu, 2007).


  • Chong-hee Lieu, C., et. al. (2007). Communication Strategies for Nurses Interacting with Patients Who Are Deaf. Dermatology Nursing. 19(6), 541-547.
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