Signs of engagement in a conversation can differ by culture. Don’t judge your audience based on your own notions of attentiveness. You may have your client's attention and not realize. Their silence or lack of eye contact can be signs of respect to you, the communicator.
Ask yourself the following about your client(s):
Do you have their attention?
Do you know what they are interested in learning?
Are they comfortable?
Could they be preoccupied with thoughts of other things going on in their lives?
At the same time, you should also watch for signs that you need to change your approach.
Be alert for cues that communication has shut down
Encourage give-and-take discussion
Rely on cultural experts: For cultural groups you will interact with frequently, have someone knowledgeable about the culture help you interpret people’s actions. Sometimes when we rely on our own point of view, we misinterpret.
Set the Stage for Engagement: Put Your Clients at Ease
Helping your clients feel comfortable is important. MCH professionals from throughout the country offered these ideas for doing so:
Be friendly, and show warmth and caring.
Show respect for each individual’s culture.
Tell the family a bit about yourself.
Present yourself as an open-minded learner and potential partner.
Pay attention to children — this appeals to mothers of many cultures. (But be mindful that in some cultures it's not appropriate for parents to accept compliments about their child, especially in front of the child.)
Learn what people of different cultures think are polite greetings and responses. Practice using them correctly.
Be genuinely interested or be businesslike. Otherwise, the artificiality shows through and establishes a barrier.
Ask the family to describe their culture, homeland, or customs.
Show concern by asking about the family, the living environment, and the children.
Ask the family about themselves — their experience, their expertise.
Ask the family how they are adjusting to their life in the new community — the problems and the benefits.
Ask them to let you know if you do or say anything offensive — let them know you respect them.
Have enough chairs that are comfortable and fit the clients.
Turn chairs away from the windows so clients do not have to look into the sun.
Try to provide adequate ventilation in the room.
Offer nutritious snacks, using foods from different cultures.
Have small tables and chairs for children.
Try to have toys, games, or coloring books to keep children occupied.
Have an adult caregiver to attend to children in another area if possible.
Decorate bulletin boards and other common spaces to reflect different cultures or the culture of your client group.
Try to provide materials in the client’s own language.
Provide information about community resources.
If possible, meet in a place where people already feel comfortable.
Coordinate appointments to avoid unnecessary trips.
Don’t try to educate clients after they have been through many hours of clinic services and waiting.
For individual counseling, provide privacy. In some cultures, talking about food can be very personal and private.