Overcoming regional communication differences from north to south & east to west

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Traveling across the U.S. exposes traveling therapists and allied professionals to exciting new sights, cultures and cuisine. But, what many travelers aren’t expecting are the regional shifts in communication styles that can create a “language” barrier. While a career in traveling can push you outside your comfort zone, it can sometimes be a little more challenging than you expected. Here’s some differences you might face and a few universal responses that will help you cross all cultural and regional differences.

Building trust, making friends & “Good morning!”

While you’ll encounter dozens of friendly faces throughout each assignment, subtle communication differences can unintentionally cause you to leave a negative impression on folks around you. For example, a co-worker from a Midwestern state might be friendly and open right off the bat, while a client from the same region might fail to share important information during your therapy sessions because they think “complaining” is rude.

While simple greetings like “good morning” or “how are you” are expected from passersby in Southern states, co-workers from Los Angeles or NYC might react awkwardly to your daily intrusion. It’s not uncommon for folks from large cities to pass strangers on a sidewalk without a glance, while individuals from rural towns nationwide are accustomed to saying “hello” or meeting the eyes of strangers and smiling with a nod. Failing to engage in this pleasantry can leave the wrong impression in some communities.

  • Building trust is essential, especially if you’ve made a client or co-worker uncomfortable with your communication style. It’s not that you’ve done anything wrong, but you’re behaving in a way that is outside their “cultural norm,” which can cause basic distrust in any situation. Think of a loud and friendly cowboy from the West wearing his worn cowboy hat and boots in a local diner in Nashville vs. a small diner in Maine. One town’s patrons might find him fun and open, while the other might find him abrasive. Yet, if you hope to have positive work environments, or responsive clients, building trust is imperative. Paying attention to social cues can help you navigate new waters.
  • It’s also important to realize that certain regions expect that your close interactions, whether as a co-worker or client, naturally results in a type of friendship. Maybe not BFFs, but certainly more than strangers. So, if you’re consistently cool in your interactions, failing to ask friendly non-work related follow-up questions (i.e. did you tell me your son graduated?), you may encounter clients who are more and more distant, or a co-worker who stops asking you to lunch.

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It’s not you, it’s me

Your patients can find you intimidating or too easy going based on your communication style – and vice versa – which can make it difficult to connect at first. Make sure you give yourself enough time to adapt to new styles and cultures throughout your travels so you can get a feel for the common communication style in each region. If you’re having trouble getting comfortable with patients over time, consider meeting locals at community events on a more regular basis to expose yourself to the culture around you and maybe even ask questions.

If one thing’s for sure about treatment, it’s that change is constant. This is even more evident for travelers. When faced with a group of patients who come off a little headstrong at first, don’t let it throw you off. Instead, have an open mind and gain perspective from a different point of view. This gives you an opportunity to try new techniques that mesh well with your surroundings. Flexibility in terms of actions and communication can encourage those around you to do the same.

Relationships are essential for treatment

It can be more difficult for patients to trust your advice and take it when they don’t feel comfortable with you, especially when there’s a communication barrier. Allowing time for your patients to talk about their lives with you builds a strong relationship, creating a better overall experience for both parties.

“Have an open mind and gain perspective from a different point of view”

Take time during each session to get to know your patients. Simple five minute conversations that don’t relate to therapy can help them open up and feel less insecure about the meeting. According to the American Occupational Therapy Association, quick, regular conversations with patients give the therapist the foundation needed to understand each patient’s social history, routines, habits, values and more. By understanding these aspects of your patients, you can provide better treatment that is more specific to their needs and wants.

Remember: Traveling across the country means engaging with dozens of different personalities on a regular basis. Adapt accordingly to avoid offending patients so you can successfully connect with everyone in your practice.

Following the “cues” of folks around you is important as you attempt to build relationships and explore new regions nationwide. While every city and town can have it’s own little quirks and differences, regional shifts in culture can be broad.  Just by paying attention, you’ll gain enough perspective to successfully forge new paths and build a career you love.