Respectful Curiosity

Many international and migrant students often get asked the question – well, where are you from?  But they are asked it with that sort of tone and look on people’s faces that say’s, you know, that gives them the message – because you don’t belong here. Or you don’t fit in. Or, you know, another international student. So their used to having that kind of attitude. So, it’s very important that you genuinely are interested in the cultural background of a person you are talking to in order to understand some of their behaviours. So, for example, this is what I call respectful curiosity. So, I’ll give you an example – supposing you have a student who is very reticent or standing back and not engaging in a clinical practise setting. You might think that they are not interested or you might think that they are giving you unusual body language. So, you go up to a client and you introduce yourself to the client, but the student stands back with her hands maybe by her sides or behind her back. Doesn’t look at the client and doesn’t seem to want to engage. And you think this is a behaviour which is not going to be acceptable in an Australian healthcare environment. 

The thing you need to do is have a conversation with that student.  Not just to tell her that this is how she should behave, but a respectful curious question would be to that student – so tell me in your home culture, when you meet somebody who is senior to you for the first time how do you greet them? Then when you ask the question you will begin to understand that the way we greet people in the Australian healthcare setting is very western, and we have learned the way to do this. We have learnt how to do this over time and we know that the way we communicate is appropriate. But people from other cultures have been taught that polite and appropriate greeting and communication in a health care environment might be very different from our own understanding. So in order to understand, and in order to progress the student and their appropriate communication skills in your environment – the thing to do is to understand their communication behaviour, and then you can – I talk about it in terms of preparing them with a kind of survival kit for working in an Australian healthcare environment. Because the last thing a student is going to want to have is - this student has poor communication skills. So, when you understand a person’s upbringing and their own view on how to politely communicate it gives you insight. You can then adjust the behaviour.

I’m not saying correct the behaviour because it’s a very difficult area when you try and get somebody to unlearn everything they’ve always been taught. Imagine somebody telling you to do something that your mother has taught you never to do; it would be a very difficult thing. So, with body language and communication sometimes it’s really important to demonstrate and model behaviour and say to the student – did you see the look on my face when I was talking to that patient? Did you see my eye contact and the look on my face? Did you see that I was smiling in a way that was showing I was interested and listening? The student might say – but you shouldn’t smile, this person is sick and you can’t smile in front of a sick person. That gives you another insight into cultural rules that govern that person. So then it leads you to another conversation with a student to say – but in our culture, Australians value warmth, and they value a friendly smile, even if they are sick. We are not talking about laughing or smiling in a joyful way, but smiling in an appropriate and sympathetic way. The student might make the patient feel reassured and that you’re interested in them and that there’s warmth in your communication.