Non-verbal communication

Non-verbal communication is often described as ‘body language’.

Body language says a lot about our interest and engagement in the communication we’re having. Even when we ‘say the right things’, the message can be lost if our body language suggests we’re thinking something very different.

Key learning point: Our body language says a lot about our interest and engagement in the communication we’re having. It is important our posture, eye contact, facial expression and touch all match the words we are saying.

Think about the following four elements of body language in your communication with patients/clients.

  • Body posture (how we stand or sit): we’ll communicate much better when we bring our face to the same level as the other person and do not tower above them if he or she is in bed or a chair. We should be relaxed, not fidgety and impatient. And it’s important that we adopt an ‘open’ stance, showing the person that we want to be there and are not desperate to rush away and do something else – standing well back from the person with your arms crossed and flicking your eyes constantly towards the door isn’t exactly an encouragement to good communication!
  • Eye contact: keep good eye contact with the person, but don’t stare – and remember that for people from some cultures, making eye contact can seem a bit rude. This emphasises the importance of knowing about the individuals we’re caring for and learning how to approach them in the right way.
  • Facial expression: so much of what we are thinking is given away by the expressions on our face. We may not even realise we are rolling our eyes, grimacing or stifling a yawn, none of which will encourage patients/clients to keep talking to us. We need to be aware of our facial expressions and control them at all times.
  • Touch: touch is a very powerful means of communication. Lightly touching a person’s hand can convey your concern and affection for them. But as with eye contact, the touch has to be appropriate, and there are important cultural issues around touch that need to be understood. It’s also important that patient/clients give permission for you to touch them, something we looked at in more detail in consent.

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