Content Reviewers:Lisa Miklush, PhD, RNC, CNS, Gabrielle Proper, RN, BScN, MN, Jodi Berndt, PhD, RN, CCRN-K, PCCN-K, CNE, CHSE
As a nursing assistant, you are constantly communicating with your clients while you take care of them. Communication can be verbal, when using spoken language, and nonverbal, when using body language, like gestures, facial expression, and touch.
Communication may be challenging when working with clients who have different cultural backgrounds. The clients might speak different languages, making verbal communication harder, or they might misinterpret nonverbal messages because their culture gives those nonverbal cues different meanings.
To prevent miscommunication, make sure you are familiar with the client’s care plan as it contains cultural guidelines for you to be aware of.
Show an interest in your clients’ and their friends’ and family’s culture by learning more about it and knowing how to approach them.
Remember to be a professional and avoid judging others by respecting their beliefs and values that might be different from yours.
You should be self-aware of your own biases that you bring to the care environment and avoid making generalizations or stereotyping people from different cultures.
When working with clients that might not speak the same language as you as their primary language, make sure you are speaking calmly, slowly, and clearly in a normal tone.
Use short and simple phrases and try to notice if your client recognizes some of the words. Repeating what you said in a different way can be helpful, too.
Don’t raise your voice and avoid using slang or complex medical terms. In everyday communication, a very helpful tool could be a picture board with two languages, where your client can point to the picture of what they are trying to say.
Avoid using a client’s family member to translate because they could misunderstand the medical terms and give false information.
Therefore, it is always better to use an interpreter that your agency provides. This way, you will be sure that everything is translated correctly.
During client care, it’s also important to respect and maintain professional boundaries. Touch is usually used to comfort and calm down clients and to show respect, concern, reassurance, and that they have your attention.
This might differ depending on a culture, so first make sure you know who, when, and where you can touch. For example, in the Philippines and Mexico, touch is frequently used as a friendly sign and even preferred by some who believe that it protects from a curse of the evil eye, or mal de ojo.
In the United Kingdom, Ireland, and Poland on the other hand, a handshake is preferred, while touch is left for the friends and family.
Furthermore, in India, men greet other men with a handshake, they greet women with a slight bow while bringing palms together, and they touch the feet of an older adult person to show respect or seek blessing. In China, touch is avoided, so a nod is more appropriate.