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What is Your Body Language Saying to Patients?


A good rule of thumb when talking to a patient is to pretend that you are being watched by your patient without the ability to speak any words. The only way to communicate is through your body language.

When talking with patients, do you tend to focus more on what you say, your tone of voice, or your body language? All three aspects make up the method for how we communicate, but all are not equal. Based upon the psychologist, Albert Mehrabian’s work, the 7/38/55 rule was established to describe how we focus ourselves when being talked to. 

  • 7 percent of communication comes from the words we say
  • 38 percent comes from our tone of voice
  • 55 percent comes from our body language

Let’s focus on our body language as it is the most important.

A good rule of thumb when talking to a patient is to pretend that you are being watched by your patient without the ability to speak any words. The only way to communicate is through your body language. Would your patient be able to tell what you are trying to convey by the body language you use? If not, here are some quick tips to help you connect easier with your patients.

First, improving your body language skills takes practice - this is not something that comes easily for most people, let alone doctors. Some of us are quite good at using our bodies to convey our ideas and thoughts, but in my experience, most doctors are so used to writing prescriptions and charting, that they spend a good part of the exam room time conveying the message that they are busy doing stuff for the patient.

Even listening is a form of body language.

This is exactly the wrong message for patients to see and hear. Patients, above all else, want some type of validation for how they are feeling. Whether they are in the exam room for a routine check of the diabetes or they have a sore throat, patients want to feel as if you, the doctor, is listening to them and that their symptoms and condition are real. When you are sitting there in front of the patient holding your computer or with pen in hand ready to write, you are not actively listening.

Be honest with yourself about this, because the sooner you understand this notion, the more effective you will be at being a good listener. Put down the computer and the pen. Take nothing into the exam room and sit in front of the patient and just listen for a while. That while may only be five minutes, but by actively listening to your patient, you will be communicating that you are focused on how they feel and that in of itself is truly validating.

After the patient has finished talking for a little while, it is your turn to speak. One great way at using body language to help the patient feel at ease and to show them that you are actively focused on them is to mirror their actions. Some patients like to talk with their hands, others like to sit still and not move at all. By slowing down your words and mirroring these actions, you will instantly make the patient feel more comfortable with you.

While the goal in the exam room is not psychotherapy, one key factor for patients being compliant and wanting to return to see you again, is how comfortable they feel with you. By mirroring the patient’s small behaviors, this small show of body language goes a long way. Remember, there are lots of other doctors the patient could choose to see, but they are now choosing you, so help them feel comfortable.

Lastly, a great tip for helping to quickly connect with a patient with body language is to reach out and touch them. A behavioral economics study recently completed revealed that people were much more likely to feel connected to someone when that someone touched their elbow or hand during the sales encounter. Connection helps pave the way towards trust and trust is something we all want our patients to have with us. While seemingly trivial, these small gestures can go a long way. So go ahead, and while you are talking to the patient, make these small gestures of touching their hand or elbow while you are talking--it will help create a deeper connection with each patient.

These are three small tips of how you can greatly improve your body language skills which will have an immediate positive impact for how well you can connect with your patients helping them feel validated, instilling trust and creating deeper connections with each of them.

For more about Craig Koniver and our other bloggers, click here.

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