D1 Analyse how cultural variations can influence communication

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D1 Analyse how cultural variations can influence communication

Good communication is essential to ensure optimum health care for people from different cultural backgrounds. Culture is something that we all have, so whilst some cultural beliefs and practices may seem strange to a white indigenous British person, then the opposite is likely to be true to a person from a different culture. Harris (1999) asserts that a culture is the socially learned ways of living found in human societies, and that it embraces all aspects of social life, including both thought and behaviour. Leinger (1991) described culture as ‘the learned, shared and transmitted values, beliefs, norms and lifeways of a particular group that guides their thinking, decisions and actions in patterned or certain ways (Burnard and Gill 2008). Culture is learned rather than innate and dynamic and constantly changing. The UK is becoming an increasingly diverse multicultural society and the different migration patterns throughout recent centuries have added to the dynamic nature of the British culture and society. It is estimated that there are at least 3 million people living in the UK where English is not their first language and the challenges that this poses for the NHS and other caring agencies are immense. At the heart of these challenges is the fostering of good communications where people from all cultural backgrounds can understand and respect each other. The first part of this essay outlines some cultural variations regarding communication. In the second part of this essay the implications that these cultural variations have for health and social care practice are investigated. Some of the different cultural variations that are detailed relate to national backgrounds, age, social class and gender.

Cultural variations and communication

It is a normal human condition to interpret actions, facial expressions, choice of words and other forms of communication according to a person’s cultural conditioning and past experience. As language is the primary vehicle of culture, perhaps the most obvious indicator of a person’s culture is the way they speak. Statistics from the 2011 Census shows that there are more than one hundred spoken languages in London, alone (Bentham, M 2013). There are also major differences in accents, dialect and usage of words throughout the general population of the United Kingdom. Furthermore, language is central to any subculture so different age groups, gender, different occupations and people with different lifestyles and preferences will develop their own cultures and languages. A good example of this is the recent use of the words ‘sick’ (meaning great or awesome) and ‘dope’ (meaning good, great or cool) by teenagers and young people. These words have a complete opposite meaning to people from an older generation.

As well as cultural variations in the spoken word there are major variations in the body language of different cultures. Being bear hugged by a Russian person or being rebuked for smiling too much at somebody from Korea highlights the cultural blunders and confusions inherent in today’s global village. In Bulgaria, for instance, they shake their head for yes and nod for no, and in Korea touching your nose is very rude, and in France the V-sign is used for smoking. Other pitfalls include colours and symbols, for example in India the colour of mourning is white whilst in Saudi Arabia it is insulting to cross an ankle over a knee and display the sole of the shoe while talking to another person. Other taboos include Japanese people viewing it as rude to use too much eye contact, whilst in Saudi Arabia eye contact between a man and a woman would be frowned upon and seen by many as the woman being sexually promiscuous. And whilst people from Mediterranean countries are very animated when expressing themselves this may be misinterpreted to someone from a more reserved culture as being aggressive. It is important, therefore, in multicultural Britain that health and social care workers learn and embrace cultural variations in communication, as it is the responsibility of all healthcare professionals to provide equitable care for patients irrespective of their cultural background or communication abilities.

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Implications for Practice

All health and social care workers need to be aware of cultural variations in communication. These include the care assistant who recognises the symbolic importance of the bindi and assists the Hindu service user to apply the red dot, to the midwife who refrains from installing praise on a new born Vietnamese baby because she (or he) understands the significance of Vietnamese taboos and superstitions. Furthermore, the surgeon who realises that the Asian child with a swastika painted on his head is displaying it for good look rather than for Nazi sympathiser reasons ...

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