Unless you’ve established a nonverbal connection through body language and the tone of your voice, your patients may subconsciously tune out your verbal instruction, as well. Dr. Albert Mehrabian, author of Silent Messages, conducted several studies on nonverbal communication. He found that 7% of any message is conveyed through words, 38% through certain vocal elements, and 55% through nonverbal elements (facial expressions, gestures, posture, etc.). Since words are only 7% of your communication, it’s important to be aware of the nonverbal messages that you are sending
Gestures, facial expressions, and physical touch help you connect with patients on a long-lasting basis. The following tips will enable you to communicate to your patients that you care about them as a person.
Be Genuinely Interested.
Making eye contact and smiling are the most important aspects of greeting your patient. To enhance the effectiveness of your communication, face patients directly and adopt an attentive and calm presence. When you convey a posture of neutrality or curiosity, patients can sense the unspoken message, “I care about you. Tell me how you are feeling.”
A patient may be feeling frustrated at how long they had to wait to see you, or lash out at you because of pain they are feeling. Take slow, deep breaths that will help you relax. Rather than reacting reciprocally or becoming defensive, make an effort to respond in a calm manner. As soon as possible, show empathy and validate the patient’s feelings.
Look up periodically when writing or working on an electronic device.
Updating electronic medical records as you speak with a patient has many benefits. But one drawback is that providers may need to interrupt the flow of conversation while entering data in the computer. This can be particularly disruptive when the provider turns away physically to do so. One way to maintain communication continuity is to periodically — not continuously — enter data. Another way is to engage patients in what you are doing, such as reading aloud what you are typing.
Leave Room for Silence.
Some of the most powerful communication happens at times of silence and inaction. Being an active listener by quieting your own verbal and nonverbal behavior and sitting in silence can create space for patients to ask questions they need to ask. Silence gives you a chance to find out what is important to your patients and respond in meaningful ways.
Use Touch in a Respectful Way.
Touch and healing are undeniably related. However, because touch has been used to harm, as well as to help, healthcare providers must create a safe atmosphere for their use of touch by asking permission before touching their patient, and describing to their patient what to expect before they begin any type of bodily manipulation. Physical touch is a powerful tool that brings relief from pain, as well as communicating comfort and concern.
Find Out More
The Office of Behavioral and Social Sciences Research (OBSSR) at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) supports research to investigate ways communication enhances health, wellbeing, and adherence to medical instructions. To learn more, contact David B. Abrams at [email protected] or visit the OBSSR Web site at https://obssr.od.nih.gov.
As a person who has devoted their life to the care of others, these non-verbal ways of connecting with your patients will increase your ability to provide excellent care and even see more positive progress within your career. myPTsolutions offers placement services for healthcare professionals and strives to help therapists connect with their employers and patients with compassion, excellence, and dedication.