Anyone who’s ever watched a television program on body language has probably been impressed by the expert’s ability to interpret a subject’s feelings based on purely nonverbal cues. These shows famously post-game presidential debates and political speeches. And the analysis inevitably leads to speculation based on seemingly random behavior.
However, the truth is body language does speak volumes about a person’s emotions and well-being. In fact, it’s estimated that more than 60% of human communication is nonverbal! These actions are also universal among humans (unlike language), which means savvy healthcare leaders can use body language to assess nurses and medical workers of diverse backgrounds.
Here are five important nonverbal cues that every healthcare leader should review in order to facilitate a happy and healthy work environment:
People associate smiling with happiness, agreement or pleasure. And that’s a perfectly normal interpretation most of the time. However, it’s important to remember that smiling can also reflect nervousness or awkward disapproval.
Healthcare employers naturally love to see smiling team members throughout the day. But leaders must still go the extra mile to ensure their nurses’ and workers’ facial expressions are sincere. For this reason, it’s always good to encourage regular verbal and written feedback.
Dilated Pupils –
Dilated pupils are similar to smiling, in that the nonverbal cue can cut both ways. A boss may tell her nurse or medical staff about the rollout of a new program, for example. The employees’ dilated pupils can suggest either positive anticipation or negative concern. Again, it’s imperative that leaders take extra steps to gauge team sentiment.
t’s hard to imagine that grimacing or frowning is anything but a negative facial response. But there can be nuance within those expressions. For example, a frown can sometimes be playful sarcasm that isn’t necessarily negative. If a nurse lead jokingly tells her team that their “favorite” (notoriously challenging) patient was just readmitted, employees may respond with sympathetic frowns.
Nervous Behavior –
Fidgety “ticks” can reflect even deeper employee issues than overt frowning. In fact, nonverbal nervous cues should be taken very seriously by management. Highly stressed nurses and medical workers often hide overt dissatisfaction but reflect their true feelings through excessive energy.
Closed-Off Body Language –
Healthcare employees who sit with their arms and legs crossed may feel vulnerable, unwelcome or confrontational. The subconscious effort to “shield” oneself physically in the presence of a perceived threat is universal. Such body language can be particularly concerning when displayed by a problematic employee during performance assessments or HR meetings.
In the end, not all nonverbal cues are negative. If a nurse team lead finds her staff is genuinely smiling most of the day, that’s terrific! Perhaps her team is well balanced and truly enjoys their work.
However, healthcare leaders who find team members frequently go about their day frowning or engaging in overly nervous behavior may consider further investigation. Diagnosing a potential problem should not be viewed as a negative but rather as an opportunity to fix unspoken challenges. Many workers are afraid to publicly speak their mind, so potential solutions may be as simple as private meetings or anonymous surveys.