cultural competency in nursingWhether it is with patients or colleagues, whether it is good or bad, cross cultural communication is a part of our world in nursing now, more than ever.

It is easy to be stuck in our own little world thinking our way of communicating is the right way, or even the only way, but when we have messages we want or need to get across to our team partner, vital information to discuss with the doctors, or even when teaching home care to our patients, it is imperative that we get our message across.

Cultural roots run deep, and Lew Bayer, an expert in the area of cross cultural communication says, “Every person is a walking culture. The social climate of the year we were born in, the country where we're raised, the traditions and customs of our family, and our experiences...all these factors and many more make each of us unique and special individual cultures.”  She suggests we be cognisant of culture differences that may use different standards for loudness, speed of delivery, spatial distance, silence, eye contact, gestures, attentiveness and response rate during communication.

Some examples of these would be:

  • Arab people may avert their eyes when listening or talking to a superior.


  • Someone from South America may consider it impolite if you speak with your hands in your pockets.


  • Your Russian patients may want to kiss you on the check to express their gratitude.


  • If your new colleague is from Norway, they may hesitate to use your first name until they know you better.


    cultural competency in nursing

  • For the Chinese or Japanese, a facial expression that would be recognized around the world as conveying happiness, may actually express anger or mask sadness, both of which are unacceptable to show overtly in their culture.


All this may seem like a lot to consider, but the tips for considering cross cultural communication are really very basic:

  • Use common words


  • Follow basic words of grammar


  • Avoid slang


  • Repeat basic ideas without shouting


  • Paraphrase important points


  • Check for understanding


Personally, I am big fan of the honest approach: 


  • ”Is it okay with you if…” 


  • “Are you comfortable when…”


  • “Can you explain to me how…”


  • “Was it clear when I said…”


It will be in all of our best interests to make a conscious effort to overcome these communication issues in nursing while also understanding that not all our efforts will be successful. A culturally-fluent approach to good communication skills in nursing takes time, patience, good listening and awareness, and will go a long way to improve the communication across cultures and enhance personal and professional relationships.cultural competency in nursing


In the end, try not to assume someone is being rude or trying to offend you. Give them the benefit of the doubt. Understanding cross cultural communication in nursing will help you communicate to others your cultural norms. Be open to learning and understanding theirs, and then the situation may be easily rectified.

Do you have stories or experiences you'd like to share regarding communication in nursing?  Are you a nurse working in a foreign country who has had negative experiences due to language or cultural barriers?  Leave us a comment or visit Tips from nurse to nurse or NurseTogether's Global Nursing forums.