Non-verbal ways of communication can sometimes help bring a message across more effectively; especially when the patient is not receptive to regular modes of communication like listening. Some of these non-verbal communication techniques used in clinical settings have been analysed to understand their influence on the listener and to help healthcare professionals be more effective communicators. Here are the four non-verbal ways of communication that are most likely to be useful for healthcare professionals:

1. Silence

Being silent is one of the many ways of communicating. Simply listen to what the patient is saying. Remaining silent allows you to focus on what the patient is saying and makes it easier to detect nuances behind their words. It helps healthcare professionals understand a patient’s concerns better. This can be vital information when caring for the patient.

Silence also shows empathy because the listener is not making any judgmental comments. A moment of silence after a question or reply will give the patient time to think. It slows down a conversation and gives an agitated patient a chance to settle down emotionally.

2. Body language

Body language is one of the most important forms of communication. Many studies have been done to understand how body language works. Healthcare professionals may use it unconsciously, but non-verbal gestures like nodding, keeping hands at the side, and positioning the body to face the patient sends positive messages. Such gestures can reveal how much the healthcare professional is interested and involved in the conversation, or whether there is agreement or disagreement with the patient.

3. Facial Expressions

The eyes and mouth are prominent facial features, and thus most likely to leave the deepest impressions on others. Maintaining eye contact shows understanding and trust. It is also one of the easiest ways to connect with patients.

This is especially true in situations when healthcare professionals are required to multi-task. For example, typing notes into an electronic device while talking to the patient and waiting for the thermometer timer to beep. Showing empathy and creating a feeling of understanding and care is vital for communication. It is also reassuring for elderly patients with hearing loss, and for patients who face difficulties in understanding what is spoken.

Facial expressions like smiling communicate emotions and attitudes more effectively than words. It shows a willingness to attend to the patient’s needs, as well as a caring attitude. Most importantly, it helps build trust. On the other hand, frowning or a worried expression portrays a negative message and may make the patient feel insecure. A completely poker-face or a face with no facial expressions may suggest a disinterested attitude.

4. Distance with patient

An often neglected form of non-verbal communication is the physical distance between the healthcare professional and the patient. Studies show that the usual distance between people in a social setting is between 125 cm and 360 cm. When it is personal, the distance is about 45 cm and 125 cm.

It may be especially difficult to make a few more steps towards a patient after an exhausting overnight shift, however communications become more effective when the healthcare professional is closer to the patient. It certainly helps when the healthcare professional expresses concern and bonds with the patient. At the same time, it allows the patient to better listen and read the different facial expressions of the healthcare professional, which will give them more reassurance too. MIMS

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