You already know that communicating with your patients is vital. The better your communication skills, the more effective you are in attracting and keeping patients. Listening is a key skill.
But how effective are you at watching what your patients tell you? That’s right — watching.
Perhaps you’ve heard that when a patient’s body posture is open and he’s facing you, feet on the floor, hands open, you’re on the same wavelength. And you understand that when he folds his arms, crosses his legs and turns his body away from you, he doesn’t accept the information and he’s rejecting you.
However, there’s more to body language than open and closed postures. John Mole, a consultant in communication and team building, has broken body language into two basic groups and four modes. The groups are open/closed and forward/back. The modes are responsive, reflective, combative, and fugitive.
Reading the combination is essential. For example, do you know what the patient is “telling” you in the following postures?
Posture says a lot
• Open body posture, leaning forward. When a patient sits like this, he is responsive. He is taking in and accepting the information you are giving him. This is the body language you hope to see when you are giving a report of findings and patient education.
• Open body posture, leaning back. Leaning back indicates she’s reflecting and you should give her time to evaluate and consider the information you are sharing. This is the time to give your patient facts about her condition and explain subluxation and treatment plans.
• Closed body posture, leaning back. If a patient’s body posture is closed, he’s ignoring you, and it’s time to rethink your approach because what you’re doing isn’t working. For example, you may be presenting yourself and your information in a detached, scientific manner when he needs to be reassured.
A closed posture and leaning back means the patient is in a fugitive mode. Interpret this to mean that he wants to escape, either mentally or physically. Not only is he rejecting you and your information, he wants out.
Other signs can also indicate your patient is in the fugitive mode, according to Dennis Kyle, who trains professionals on interpreting body language. Kyle says additional signs include poor eye contact, mumbling, fidgeting feet and constantly tapping fingers.
But what do you do when confronted with a patient in the fugitive mode? Kyle advises that you will accomplish better communication by speaking softly, calmly and slowly.
• Closed body posture, leaning forward. Mole calls this the combative mode. A patient in this mode is actively resisting you and the information you present. She may be either skeptical or angry and her verbal language, facial expressions and the intensity of her body language, including gestures, will tell you which it is.
If skeptical, Kyle recommends utilizing the WIIFM philosophy, an acronym for What’s In It For Me. “Even though she may not know it,” Kyle explains, “the skeptical patient believes the doctor is working from his or her own best interests, not the patient’s.” Communicate with this patient by leaning forward, presenting an open posture, maintaining comfortable eye contact and focusing on the patient’s concerns.
If it’s anger, the patient’s personal space comes into play. Kyle defines personal space as about three feet and advises that when dealing with anxious or angry patients, you should maintain a distance of at least four feet. You never want to invade a patient’s space, but if the patient is angry, it’s especially important to back away. This is for two reasons. The first is safety, both yours and the patient’s. The second reason is that it’s counterproductive. If you intrude into the patient’s personal space at this point, you increase her discomfort.
If the anger is an expression of frustration, Kyle advises you to sit with the patient, concentrate on maintaining eye contact because she needs to know she has your complete attention and, he says, “The doctor should also limit hand gestures and sit erect, adopting a neutral posture.”
Reading the truth
Body language can also be helpful when evaluating the truthfulness of what the patient tells you. Keeping in mind that you must deal with both conscious and unconscious attitudes and messages, look for patients who touch their faces, put their hands over their mouths, pull their ears, keep their eyes downcast, shift in their seats, or frequently glance up and/or look down and to the left. They may not even know it, but according to Mole, these patients are not being truthful.
One last caveat. Kyle mentions that the patient’s condition will naturally affect his body language. To read what the body is telling you, observe the four areas — eye contact and brow movement; facial gestures; torso and arm behavior; and leg behavior. He says, “If the patient is in pain, look to see if the arms are relaxed, brows relaxed. Does the patient maintain good eye contact, demonstrate attentiveness? If so, that’s a patient ready and interested in chiropractic.”
Prudy Taylor Board is a freelance writer from Delray Beach, Fla. She can be reached at 561-265-0212 or at firstname.lastname@example.org, or through her Web site, www.ptbenterprises.com.
For more information on body language, visit www.johnmole.com or www.positiveresults.com. Check out classes in learning to read body language at www.universalclass.com/i/crn/4019.htm or www.spiritual-courses.com/courses/kinesics.htm