Research shows that details as subtle as what we do with our arms, and how we position our feet accounts for 50-70% of all communication. So in a workplace where hundreds of patients come and go every day, being literate in body language is essential for you and your team. As well as for the good of your patients and their wellbeing, understanding body language can help conserve energy. And that means reading others’ body language as well as communicating your own clearly and effectively.
Think of the quiet of the waiting room and the confidential hush of patient check-in at reception. Imagine the difficult conversations and communication breakdowns that must happen on a weekly basis in your GP’s offices when a patient is too scared, embarrassed or otherwise uncomfortable to fully explain what’s wrong. Being able to read a patient’s body language is second nature to many of us, but re-educating your team – everyone from the reception staff to nurses and GPs – may not be a bad idea from time to time. Did you know, for example, that:
- People sometimes squint when they feel threatened
- That arched eyebrows may not mean sarcastic thoughts, but that someone is just having a good think
- Blinking a lot can suggest nervousness
- Placing your hands in a church steeple arrangement is the international body language sign for “I’m about to make a decision”.
- Feet facing away from the other person implies a lack of real interest or care
- Jumping knees or restless legs can mean fear, rather than impatience
- Leaning forward suggests that you’re interested and invested in what the other person has to say
- A lowered head can denote shame or secrecy
- Mirroring or realigning yourself to someone’s body language or tone of voice can mean that you’re keen to build a rapport with them, and share their perspective
- Arms crossed can mean that someone is defensive or uncomfortable, and can also suggest a sense of bossiness or authority
You and your team should also remember that people suffering emotionally – as many patients will be – are especially sensitive to your body language, as a receptionist, nurse, practice manager or GP. Why not circulate an email or create a handout to remind everyone on your team of the signs they may be inadvertently sending out – or missing – as they deal with patients.