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3.2 Barriers to transcultural communication

Some migrants who need to use health services often feel helpless, uncertain and stressed in losing control due to their limited English language skills, their limited understanding of the host culture, and the sub-culture of the health system. Culturally incompetent communication is also stressful to the health/social care practitioner who must endeavour to overcome some of the common barriers to effective communication as this is the foundation of therapeutic relationships.

Common communication barriers include:
  • Language difficulties
  • Interpretation needs/problems
  • Lack of accessible information in community languages
  • Non-verbal communication
  • Culturally incompetent communication
Common non-verbal communication that can become barriers to effective transcultural communication are:
  • Expressions of physical and emotional pain
  • Expressions of anxiety
  • Use of silence
  • Use of gestures
  • Personal space
  • Eye contact
  • Tone of voice
  • Responding to bad news

Culturally incompetent communication could result in giving the wrong information to a patient, or in some case not giving any information both of which could have devastating results. Misunderstandings can also happen which can result in people being offended, becoming stressed, suffering unnecessarily and failing to establish the necessary relationship between patient/family- health professional.

Read more on:

Ethnicity on line

The RCN’s Transcultural Healthcare Practice: an educational resource for nurses and health care practitioners

Office of Minority Health National Culturally and Linguistically Appropriate Services (CLAS) Standards

Crosswalked to Joint Commission 2007 Standards for Hospitals, Ambulatory, Behavioral Health, Long Term Care, and Home Care

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