Importance of Body Language in Nursing Communication

As you’ve probably heard before, the majority of human communication is non-verbal. Indeed, up to 55% of communication consists of nothing more than how we are holding or moving various body parts. In a profession like nursing, which requires a lot of communication between patients, other nurses, doctors, and other members of staff, it is essential that proper body language is being used. This will help you not only convey the messages that you need to, but also prevent misunderstandings. Proper body language will help encourage good professional relationships and compassionate treatment of others.

If you’re looking for ways to make sure that your body language matches the intent of the message you are trying to communicate, keep reading to understand how your non-verbal communication appears to others and what to do about it.

The Face

If you’ve ever heard the phrase “wearing your heart on your sleeve,” a more accurate statement might be “wearing your heart on your face,” for it is the face that shows our emotions most readily to the world. A smile will let others know you are happy or feeling positive. A frown indicates sadness. A furrowed brow could mean frustration, anger, or confusion.

It is important to make sure that the facial expression you are exhibiting is in line with your dealings with other people. If you are worried about getting home later in the day when you know there will be bad traffic, try to keep that worry off your face when you are dealing with patients. They don’t know about your traffic dilemma, so they could interpret your concerned facial expression as having to do with them or their diagnosis, which could make them worry as well.

When dealing with patients or coworkers, make sure to have good eye contact and pay attention to the muscles in your face. Make sure that what your face is doing is in line with your current emotion, not an auxiliary emotion you are feeling because of some other situation.

The Shoulders

If you’ve ever felt tense or stressed out about something, you might have noticed a tightness in your shoulders or neck. Many people carry negative emotions, including stress, in these body parts, which could soon lead to chronic back and neck pain. Hunched shoulders or a lowered head are often perceived not as a result of stress, but as worry or a lack of confidence. As a nurse, you should display confidence when dealing with your patients, since this will help them feel trust and confidence in you.

When working with patients, keep your back straight and your head level. They will do a better job of listening and paying attention to your verbal message when they get the sense that you are capable and self-possessed. Introducing crunches or planks into your daily workout routine will give you a stronger core, making it easier to keep your shoulders back.


Perhaps one of the trickiest bits of body language to master, what we do with our hands can send messages to the people we are talking with. If you are experiencing nervousness, focus on what happens with your hands. Do you over-gesticulate, making wild hand gestures? Do you tend to fidget with your pen, name badge, or medical equipment? Maybe you hold them in an unnatural position that appears awkward? Paying attention to your hands can help you prevent distractions on the part of the patient and make them feel more at ease.

Try to keep your hands relaxed and still when talking with others. When working with patients, a light touch on the arm or shoulder can be comforting and reassuring.

Body Direction and Spacing

The direction your body is facing and how far away you are from the person you are talking to can be incredibly meaningful to the message recipient. If your body is facing away from the person, you might appear anxious to end the conversation, or that you aren’t fully involved in the conversation at all. Standing too far away from, or too close to, the person can also increase discomfort.

When in doubt, let your hips be your directional guide. Always face your hips toward the person you are talking to and keep your feet in line as well. If you want to impart a sense of relaxation to a worried or angry patient, shift your weight to one side of your body while you face them. You will appear relaxed yet in control of the situation. For spacing, pay attention to the intent of the conversation. If you are discussing personal details or information, try to be just inside their personal space, but leave plenty of room between you so as not to encroach on their space too much.

Final Thoughts

Body language is an intensely vital part of communicating with others, and as a nurse, you need to make sure that your messages are getting through. As you practice improving your body language, pay attention to how others react; you will certainly see positive progress in your daily interactions!

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