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Through my years of living, working, and communicating across cultural boundaries I’ve realized two things that sum it all up: one — this road is humbling and two – it’s a life-long learning process. Just when I think I have it all figured out, something, someone will come into my life and challenge my thinking and my well-worn tool box of ‘how to live and communicate across cultures’.

This is setting the stage for this post that is co-authored (though she doesn’t know it yet) by my cultural broker, colleague, and close friend Cathy. Cathy has taught me much about living and working across cultural boundaries. We have worked together to bring resources and workshops on culturally responsive, culturally competent care to health care providers in the Northeast for a number of years. Together we have come up with this list, compiled from a variety of sources. While we work primarily with health care providers, this list can be used in other situations.

So here’s our tool box for working and communicating across cultural boundaries:

  • Be aware of your cultural values and the beliefs you hold. This is a first and critical step to being able to effectively communicate across cultures. If you don’t understand the importance of culture — why you value what you do, how you make decisions, essentially how you live all of life, then it will be difficult for you to understand how culture affects others.
  • Become a student of the culture and the community. Even if you’re an expert in a certain area it’s important to rethink your role and be willing to learn as a student.
  • Recognize differences in narrative styles and practical behaviors across cultures. Be willing to research these differences and ask questions.
  • Understand that  limited language proficiency (whether your’s or another’s) does not mean limited intellectual ability. People with limited language skills are usually capable of communicating clearly and effectively in their native language.
  • Have a high tolerance of ambiguity.
  • Seek help from bilingual/bicultural co-workers and individuals – find those who can help explain cultural nuances, the complexity of culture, dual causality and more.
  • Know the role of interpreters and learn to use interpreters effectively.
  • Allow the use of story-telling and props when speaking with others – we learn so much more in a story than in a list of facts. For healthcare providers, realize the symptoms are often in the story.
  • Include the patient and family as partners in determining both treatment plan and outcomes.
  • Recognize the primary person you are working with may not be the decision maker in the family.
  • Use empathy, curiosity, and respect as you work across cultural boundaries. Empathic listening, curious questioning, respectful observing.
  • Be able to laugh at yourself and potential mistakes — if you don’t laugh you’ll find yourself crying way too much.

What would you add to this list? I would love to hear from you through the comments.  

Chive Boursin MuffinsThis week’s muffins are a delicious savoury mixture of chives and goat cheese. Stacy says this: “I used goats’ cheese with herbs and garlic to complement the chives.  Delicious!  This one will be a surprise to those who think muffins can only be sweet.”

For Chive Boursin Muffins head here.