Active Listening in Cross-Cultural Communications

Quality Interactions 

Achieving mutual understanding, promoting trust and conveying empathy can be challenging in cross-cultural healthcare settings. Active listening is an interpersonal communication skill that uses the process of listening to encourage others to talk, fostering understanding of the patient's illness experience and building trust.[1] This is more than simply hearing your patient's words. Active listening involves three essential components: preparation, mindful non-verbal communication, and reflection.[2] Let's briefly review these steps.

  • Preparation reduces stress and allows you to be fully present for the patient encounter. It includes: 1) stopping all non-relevant activities 2) clearing your mind of judgments or opinions and 3) checking in with your emotions.

  • Mindful non-verbal communication entails intentional use of your attention and non-verbal body language to encourage the patient to be open. When you are actively listening, you a) directly face the person b) use relaxed, open posture c) lean towards the patient and d) maintain eye contact, if culturally appropriate.

  • Reflection helps to clarify points that may be vague or non-specific and communicates your desire to know the patient's story. Reflection simply involves restating the patient's story in your own words and confirming that the patient agrees with your interpretation. (Note: when reflecting, it is best to avoid simply repeating the patient's words verbatim.)

Active listening is a valuable skill for all healthcare personnel working in a multicultural setting that enhances clinical effectiveness and patient satisfaction.[3,4] In addition, this style of mindful communication helps providers avoid or resolve many of the conflicts prone to arise in cross cultural encounters by confirming mutual understanding, conveying caring and promoting trusting relationships between providers and patients.

Click here to to read clinical vignette

For further reading, click, Griffith CH 3rd et al. House staff nonverbal communi...[PMID: 12648247], Girón M et al. Clinical interview skills and...[PMID: 9546000]


Comments on Medscape are moderated and should be professional in tone and on topic. You must declare any conflicts of interest related to your comments and responses. Please see our Commenting Guide for further information. We reserve the right to remove posts at our sole discretion.