Importance of nonverbal communication in nursing
Studies show that non-verbal communication represents over 55 percent of all communication. If that estimate is accurate, then positive body language is essential to nursing communication. Because we have a patient-nurse professional relationship, our conversations must be therapeutic, goal-directed and aimed at helping patients heal. Those conversations not only include what we say but how we say it.
Kinesics is the study of non-verbal communication. This includes body movements such as nodding, smiling and expressions. Additionally, proxemics comes into play – the amount of physical space between you and the person you are speaking to.
5-Step Body Check/Reality Check
It’s no secret that the face conveys emotion. An excellent emergency nurse told me this week that one of her patients asked, “Are you upset with me? You look angry.” This nurse said she was absolutely not upset with the patient, but because she was rushed, she had not paid attention to her facial expression while in the room. She had let her own experience spill over onto the patient.
Patients see our hearts though our eyes. It takes an incredible amount of nursing professionalism to appear relaxed, make eye contact and help our patient know - for that brief moment – we are “with them.” And that we see them not just as a label, but as a human being.
Tip: If you are currently on EMR, practice speaking to the patient for a few moments prior to starting to document. Look up frequently and make eye contact with the patient, nodding and engaging them as you go.
Many people carry their stress in their shoulders. The more frustrated, rushed or tired you are, the more you may have a tendency to carry your shoulders high and tight. This posture is not only unhealthy, but will produce frequent back and neck pain.
Tip: Take frequent, slow cleansing breaths. As you exhale, drop your shoulders into a relaxing posture. Slowly move your head back and forth two to three times, as if shaking your head “no.” Gently stretch your neck and then shrug your shoulders tightly to your face 2-3 times. Each time you do, take a slow deep breath and drop your shoulders as you exhale. Your patients will read your correct posture as non-aggressive and non-confrontational.
Make sure your hands are open and relaxed. In some cultures, it is rude to have your hands out of sight. Palms should be relaxed and facing the patient openly as much as possible. Try to not fidget with pens or equipment unnecessarily. Your movements should be smooth, rhythmic and purposeful. As you complete tasks with your hands, explain to the patient verbally what you are doing.
Tip. Hands can have a healing touch. If you have developed a quick, a soft touch to the shoulder or hand – even a pat on the back – conveys confidence and reduces anxiety in most people. If in question, always ask permission before touching a patient.
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