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Body Language in Nursing

In the healthcare setting, life-or-death situations can spell high-flying emotions, not just from patients, but from
team members and your nurse manager. Communication is the way in which we express our emotions and it is
often expressed in non-verbal forms or body language: our facial expressions, gestures, eye contact, posture, and
the tone of our voice. Body language is a very powerful way of communicating and it can either help to improve
our relationships and build trust, or it can cause a lack of trust and misunderstanding if people send confusing or
negative body signals, even if unintentional.

This body language guide is intended to help your communication with your patients and your colleagues. Further
consider that when we carefully examine the body language of others, it is easier to become more cognizant of
our own behaviors. In doing so, we can modify our own body language. Here are five simple suggestions for
creating positive body language:

Make eye contact. Eye contact demonstrates honesty and shows the sender that you are paying
attention to what they are saying. This will build trust with your patients and your colleagues.

Avoid finger pointing. Finger pointing sends a signal out to everyone that someone or something is
the subject of conversation. In essence, this is an invasion of privacy, but it also considered “rude” in
our culture.

Avoid sitting in a nonchalant manner (i.e. with hands behind the head). Sitting in such a fashion
can suggest unprofessionalism. You really do not want to be working and providing care for your
patients with such an attitude.

Avoid rolling your eyes. Eye rolling is not only unprofessional, but it also mocks the speaker. The eye roll is perceived as a negative
gesture and will in most cases make the other person angry and/or defensive. If you find yourself in a disagreement or even a
confrontation with a coworker or patient, try to avoid rolling your eyes.

Avoid infringing on your colleagues’ or patients’ personal space. Everyone’s personal space is
their own, and invading that boundary can be uncomfortable and threatening.

Oftentimes, people aren't even aware of their body language, but hopefully these suggestions will be a helpful
reminder of the importance it plays in our relationships with our patients and coworkers.

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About the author: Jennifer Ward, BSN, RN is a medical- surgical nurse also trained in Oncology and Long-Term Care. Jennifer is dedicated to
evidence-based practice and shared governance. She especially enjoys wound care, falls prevention, patient satisfaction, and documentation
initiatives.

Presently, Jennifer is working on her certification as an Acute Care Nurse Practitioner at the University Of Virginia School Of Nursing, in
Charlottesville, Virginia.

Click here for contact information and other articles by Jennifer Ward.

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