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Appreciating difference






We need to recognise that differences in lifestyle, beliefs, etc. can make us feel uncomfortable or uncertain, to make sure that this discomfort doesn’t get in the way.  You won’t be surprised that there’s a mentalising take on diversity! Because mentalising stresses the need to really focus on each individual and what they’re experiencing, it keeps reminding us that we mustn’t make assumptions but must find out directly from the other person. This is a particularly useful skill with people who have very different life experiences to our own, as the courteous curiosity that mind-awareness encourages is invaluable in asking open, non-judgmental questions. And in being genuinely interested in the answers.

There is the concept that we go against other people because it makes us feel better. A basic example, if you see someone being bullied you can have several reactions; firstly, “poor thing how awful”, secondly “thank god it’s not me”, thirdly “well it would happen to them, they’re not in the ‘in group’ (whatever that is) but I am.” And so you can sometimes feel better about yourself. This very human tendency obviously needs to be watched out for at work.



People who have English as an additional language

This is clearly a potentially major barrier to the effective communication that’s essential for patient care and treatment. Hospitals have policies and resources (including interpretation and translation services) to meet this need. A few quick ideas:

  • An early exercise is to check if the person knows essential phrases like “I don’t understand,” “Slowly, please,” and “Please repeat.” And if they don’t, to try to teach these.
  • Humour can be particularly helpful but also risky as there are considerable national differences in what’s considered funny and what’s experienced as offensive.
  • Similarly, while making eye contact is an important element of ‘traditional’ British communication, in many cultures it is regarded as intrusive or over-familiar. This is a tricky one, because a patient from a minority culture may be avoiding eye-contact because of custom, but it may (also) be an indication of them feeling particularly withdrawn. As ever, the better the knowledge of the individual and their background, and the stronger the relationship with them, the more accurate and helpful the interpretation is likely to be.


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