Importance of Body Language in Nursing Communication

It is a commonly known fact that non-verbal body language is an important piece of communication. In fact, up to 55% of communication consists of how people move and their body posture while speaking and listening. In a profession like nursing, which requires a lot of communication with patients, other nurses, doctors, and other members of staff, it is essential that appropriate body language is being used. This will help to convey the correct messages and prevent misunderstandings. Proper body language will also help encourage good professional relationships and compassionate treatment of others.

If you are looking for ways to ensure that your body language matches the intent of the message you are trying to communicate, the following tips will help to understand how non-verbal communication appears to others and identify changes that may need to be made.

Face

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

It is important to make sure that the facial expression you are exhibiting is appropriately aligned with the message being verbally communicated. For example, if you are worried about your commute or other outside of work problems, try to keep that worry off your face when caring for patients. Patients cannot read minds and they may interpret your concerned facial expression as having to do with them or their diagnosis, which could make them worry unnecessarily.

When speaking with patients or coworkers, make sure to have good eye contact and pay attention to the muscles in your face. Again, ensure that what your facial expression correlates what you are verbally communicating, and not an emotion you are feeling tied to a personal situation.

Shoulders

If you have ever felt tense or stressed about something, you might have noticed a tightness in your shoulders or neck. Many people carry negative emotions, including stress, in their neck and shoulders, which could lead to chronic back and neck pain. Hunched shoulders or a lowered head are often perceived as worry or a lack of confidence rather than as a result of internal stress. As a nurse, you should display body language that conveys confidence when caring for patients because this will help them feel trust and confidence in you.

When working with patients, keep your back straight, your shoulders back, and your head level. There are plenty of exercises that will help with poor posture that are good for all people.

Hands

Perhaps the trickiest body language to master is the hands. What one is doing with their hands can send a variety of messages to the people they are talking with. When you are feeling nervous or anxious, 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 and stilling them when speaking can help you prevent distractions and align your body language with your verbal message.

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 are not fully engaged in the conversation. Standing too far away from, or too close to, the person can also increase discomfort. It is also important to understand cultural norms of how far to stand from a person you are speaking to; different cultures have different norms of how far to stand.

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 extremely important piece of communication, and as a nurse, you need to make sure that you are conveying the message that you intend. 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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Dr. Jenna Liphart Rhoads Ph.D, RN, CNE

Dr. Jenna Liphart Rhoads is a registered nurse and a nurse educator. She earned a BSN from Saint Francis Medical Center College of Nursing and an MS in nursing education from Northern Illinois University. Jenna earned a Ph.D. in education with a concentration in nursing education from Capella University where she researched the moderation effects of emotional intelligence on the relationship of stress and GPA in military veteran nursing students.