Body language every nurse should know


Nonverbal cues in different cultures
A medical setting is often the crossroads for people of different cultures and backgrounds. Body language that may be normal for Westerners may be seen as rude or hostile to people from other parts of the world. offers these basics that you should know when dealing with patients, families and coworkers of a different culture:

1. Handshake

The handshake is regarded as the universal gesture of greeting. However, even this simple gesture takes on its own nuance in different cultures. For instance, in America and Canada, and Germany it’s custom to give a firm handshake while the French prefer a soft, quick handshake. The Japanese couple their handshake with a bow. When greeting a person from the Middle East, be sure to place the free hand on the forearm of the other person when shaking their hand.

2. Bowing

Bowing also common as a form of greeting in Asian cultures. East Asians such as the Japanese bow with their hands pressed to their sides. The depth of the bow signals the amount of respect you are paying to the person you greet. Other variations of the bow include the Pakistani ‘salaam’ – bowing with the palm of the right hand on the forehead. People from Cambodia and Laos bow with hands in front of their chests.

Image: Tanya Constantine | Digital Vision | Getty Images

3. Hugging and kissing

A hospital or clinic is filled with hugging and kissing every day as families greet and comfort their loved ones, and often times to show gratitude towards the nurses and staff. The customary hug and kiss can differ from culture to culture. For instance, men in Spain, Portugal, Italy, Eastern Europe and Middle East exchange kisses on the cheek. Hawaiians include an exchange of breath called the “aha” while hugging. The Maori have a gretting called ‘hongi’ which includes the pressing together of noses.

4. Eye contact

Westerners will make eye contact to show engagement while speaking. But what do the Japanese and Middle Easterners think of eye contact? The Japanese regard direct eye contact as invasive and may find it rude. In the Middle East conversely, intense eye contact may be a way for a person to suss out the other’s intentions and thus one may come in close to see the eyes more clearly.

Always remember that individuals have their own way of using body language that may or may not be in line with their background or culture. Always ask questions to avoid misunderstanding and confusion and always, always show respect for cultural traditions and customs.

Patients | Coworkers | Manager | Patient’s Family | Different Cultures | Improve Your Workday

Vlad Zachary
"America’s Professional Coach" Vlad Zachary is a leading expert in career and professional coaching with award-winning and world-recognized publications. He is the CEO of, founder of, and the author of the DVD Mastering the Job Interview and several e-books on healthcare, communications, psychology and career development.

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