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Improve your cultural sensitivity


Pharmaceutical Representative

Saying hola rather than hello makes a difference.

"Hola. ¿Como estas?" "Priviet, kak dela? Although these are not my usual greetings when I enter a doctor's office, they are two of many that I use. Although the art of good listening is important, the practice of creative communication is just as essential.

As an anthropology major in college, I learned the importance of cross-cultural communication. People take note of you when you make an attempt to get to know them. I am not talking about what TV programs they like, or what pictures they have on display in their office. I am talking about where they come from, how they live and who they really are.

The territory I cover is a multicultural one. A good majority of my doctors are of Russian descent, others are Phillipino and Jewish (Orthodox and Nonorthodox).

Learning the customs and cultural greetings of my physicians enabled me to spend more quality time with them and allowed me to develop strong relationships with staff.


We live in an egocentric society. People are more in tune with where they come from and they're proud of it.

When entering a doctor's office, take note of what is happening around you in a cultural sense. Are there are any staff members wearing exotic clothing or jewelry? Are they speaking another language? If so, ask them what it is and how to say a few words. Are there any magazines or newspapers in another language in the patient-waiting room? Is the television on and tuned to a foreign channel?

Create a dialogue with the staff. Ask them where they are from and try to draw comparisons with your culture and practices. Ask them how they initiate formal and informal greetings, then learn those greetings and practice them. Ask them what holidays they celebrate that are different from your own and remember to recognize it on a follow-up visit.

For example, in the Spanish culture, gift-giving is recognized on January 6, which is Three Kings Day, not on Christmas. Therefore, while this is a time when many members in society are winding down from Christmas or Chanukah, this ethnic group is just beginning to celebrate.


Cross-cultural communication opens up another avenue for sales reps. Medical staff only expect you to detail, not to try to learn their culture or how to speak their language. By initiating a cross-cultural dialogue, the fears and reserved attitudes of office personnel are often decreased and, sometimes, erased. Relationships are established and made stronger. Furthermore, you distinguish yourself in an unusual way.

When entering one of my many Russian medical offices, for example, I used to be confronted with anxious anticipation. But issuing my personal greetings in Russian usually sent the office staff into fits of giggles. In return, I would smile. I would then ask for help in proper enunciation. I was always obliged. The office staff not only assisted me in improving my Russian greeting, but taught me other salutations and sayings as well. Hence, this became the topic of every visit I made with them. I was always then escorted to see the physician, to whom they would give an update on my progress.

By practicing better awareness of my surroundings and employing creative communication, I was able to break down many barriers to selling. PR

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