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February 23, 2022

Conflict in the Emergency Department: Communicating across cultures

In conflict management course in the UAE, Qatar and other GCC countries, we address issues around different communication styles. For example, the Arab communication style is known for containing exaggeration (through a fear of being ignored) over-assertion (through a fear of a point’s force being diminished) and repetition (through a fear of not being understood properly). In order to get one’s point across, there is no room here for British style tact or understatement!

This type of communication style, when viewed from a Western perspective, can appear violent or even aggressive or confrontational. But actually, on observing two people speaking in Arabic who are desperately trying to get their message across to the other person, it can be really shocking for a westerner to observe this, and to mistakenly but wholeheartedly believe that these people are actually fighting. But in reality, they’re having a pleasant conversation where their meaning is very clear to the other person, and there are no misunderstandings and everybody feels that it was a really nice chat! 

Other elements of cross-cultural issues were addressed:

  • the importance of honour, shame and public visibility of actions
  • the importance of family, honour and kinship
  • the importance of hospitality towards guests
  • the importance of seniority and credibility
  • the distasteful position of having to say ‘No’ (and so never quite saying it!)

From The Arab Mind:  “For three thousand years , the desert was his impregnable stronghold : here the Bedouin could preserve undisturbed the way of life he had developed in close symbiosis with his camel , the “ ship of the desert . ” In the desert he was able to guard his sacred traditions , the purity of his language and his blood , and develop a unique social and cultural adaptation to one of the harshest environments known to man on earth. The Bedouins were, and are , a patrilineal and patriarchal society , kin-based and strongly kin-oriented. In the desert it was literally each man and his kin group against the rest of the world. People are all personally known to one another and most are related by blood or, at least , by a fiction of common descent. In such a small society there are considerable pressures to conform, to uphold the group values , and to live by the unwritten but inevitably well – known moral code of the group.”

Dynamis provides a comprehensive conflict management training programme which spans the whole spectrum of encounters in a hospital environment.  In this series of posts, our Director of Training reflects on key ideas in addressing conflict in the hospital. 

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Gerard O'Dea is the Director of Training for Dynamis. Training Advisor, Speaker, Author and Expert Witness on Personal Safety, Conflict Management and Physical Interventions, he is the European Advisor for Vistelar Conflict Management, a global programme focussing on the spectrum of human conflict.

Gerard O'Dea

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