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Communication: Verbal & Non-Verbal


Communication: Verbal & Non-Verbal

By:  Celeste Chase, AC-BC, ACC, CDP, CMDCP

Verbal Communication
What you say and how you say it will have a tremendous impact on your success as a care provider. The spoken word has the power to heal and equally so, the power to hurt. Words guide, motivate and influence others. They convey our thoughts and all too easily can dramatically change the outcome of even the most well intentioned actions. Words can enlighten, uplift and bestow a sense of mutual understanding and lastly, particularly in healthcare, a spoken word is one of the singularly most potent treatments that will enable healthcare professionals to establish a trusting relationship with those they serve.
One critical skill that should become you're standard daily practice is to introduce yourself each and every time during your interaction with your resident. You will be doing it many times throughout your workday, especially in the first few weeks of a resident's admission to the facility. Introduce yourself with a smile while pointing to your name badge to help residents remember your name until they become familiar with you.
  • Address the resident by Mr./Mrs. and their last name. Residents who want you to use their first names will very quickly tell you what name they prefer; whether name or nickname.
  • Never, never use terms like "sweetie" or "dear."  A fair number of healthcare providers do this in an absent minded way not meaning to cause offense. It is often an unconscious pattern of speech that is, however, both undignified and unprofessional.
Tone of Voice
Use a relaxed and friendly tone of voice to create a relax atmosphere both for you and your resident. A relaxed tone will evoke assurance and help the resident to move beyond the initial introduction to feel confidence in your abilities. Keep the volume of your voice at a normal regular level unless hearing loss deficits have been noted in the resident's personal record. The elderly with hearing difficulties are hesitant to ask you to repeat what you just said. Often they will default to "lip-reading" to fill in the gaps of missing words to better understand what others are saying. Observe the residents reaction closely and utilize body language interpretation to your advantage to gauge whether the resident fully comprehends what is being asked of him/her.
NOTE: Never shout; it raises the pitch of your voice. Many older people lose the ability to hear high-pitched sounds. That is why many older people tell you they can understand a man's voice better than a woman's voice.
Listening is extremely important. It is often more important to "sit-a-spell" and quietly focus on what the resident is trying to tell you than it is for you to continue speaking. The elderly often take longer to react as well as express themselves. Give your resident ample time to respond to your questions or comments.
Non-Verbal Communication
Body language is a nonverbal communication in which physical behaviors, as opposed to words, are used to express or convey information, thoughts and lastly, intent. Self-awareness of personal body language goes hand-in-hand with the verbal word spoken and is particularly pertinent to professionals in the field of healthcare. In addition, non-verbal body language must always openly invite an exchange and collaboration with others.
NOTE: Humans have the capacity to unconsciously and instinctively assess their environment for safety at all times. The brain has the ability to translate an impending threat to personal safety from nonverbal cues in a fifth of a second faster than verbal ones. Don't let your unconscious body language send the wrong message to your resident.
Residents who believe their providers lack interest in their personal care are more likely to withhold valuable information that could be beneficial to their health and well being. Body movements and posture while approaching your resident will speak volumes as to whether those you approach will consider you "friend" or "foe." Body posture provides nonverbal cues that project what we are thinking and feeling well before any words are spoken. Understanding body language leads to resident satisfaction and understanding. Is your body language sending the right message?
NOTE: Even people with severe memory problems that have difficulty understanding what you say can retain the ability to "read" your body language.
Negative Body Language (often expressing displeasure): frowning, raising  eyebrow and folding our arms over our chest. Try to do a bit of personal self-observance and catch yourself and what your body language is telling others.

Crossed Arms and/or Legs: This is such a clear indicator of disinterest that some experts recommend actually ending a meeting or conversation if you see one or more people lean back and cross their arms. Crossed legs may be a danger sign as well.
Nodding too Many Times: Nodding is an essential part of communication and lets other people know you understand or agree with what they're saying. But doing it too many times can make you seem weak. It can also come across as a sign of indifference.
Fidgeting: People fidget when they're uncomfortable or bored, so that's the signal you'll send if you're bouncing your leg or constantly messing with your hair.

Read about more common body language mistakes: Source: https://www.businessinsider.com/21-common-body-language-mistakes-even-smart-people-make-2016-4#-3
Positive Body Language: It's important for your resident to feel that he/she is understood and that you are genuinely there for them, that you understand they will have questions and warmly welcome them. Positive body language invites further dialogue.
Facial Expressions: Our facial expression offers a wealth of non-verbal information to listeners. The slightest movements can convey approval, disapproval, happiness, anger, fear or disgust. Use facial expressions to show an emotional response when your resident is speaking. If the message is concern, make sure to match your expression matches that message to show that you are listening with earnest and interest.
 Face Your Resident: This is often easier said than done. We are continuously reading charts, making notes, setting up equipment and making adjustments of nearly every kind on a daily basis so it can make it difficult to remind ourselves to "just breathe" and face your resident squarely. Be aware that turning your back for prolonged periods gives the impression that you are intentionally avoiding your resident.
Lean Forward and Nod: This gesture signals that you are interested in what your resident has to say. The most effective way to show that you are engaged in the conversation at hand is to nod your head at appropriate time, and truly listen while someone else is speaking.

The Eyes: Establish eye contact with your resident. This means looking at the person to whom you are speaking. Eye contact tells the other person you are listening and that you mean what you are saying. Directly face your resident when you speak and be sure to position yourself to his/her eye level (example: if they are sitting, sit down next to them).
  • Not enough eye contact: If you don't look the person in front of you in the eyes, he or she may unconsciously assume that you are being dishonest.
  • Too much eye contact: Not looking someone in the eyes can make you seem dishonest, but looking them in the eyes for too long is usually a sign of aggression. To make people feel comfortable and trusting, hold their gaze for just a second or two at a time, but do it often.
NOTE: Verbal and non-verbal language may have very different meanings in other cultures. Keep that in mind when dealing with people from different countries, or even other parts of this country. 
Effective communication that combines the skillful use of body language with verbal messages ensures that healthcare professionals foster positive interactions.  This involves vigilant self-awareness for the healthcare professional about the spoken word, the extent to which you listen to others and the body language that you present. The combination of these basic elements will ensure positive communications and greatly influence trusting relationships between care provider and the population served.
Have a topic request or question for Celeste? Send them over to celestechase@activitydirector.org

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