Nonverbal communication is powerful. In fact, it’s much more powerful than the spoken word in most cases. A UCLA study indicated that up to 93 percent of communication effectiveness is determined by nonverbal cues. Other studies have attributed only 7 percent to the words used, 38 percent to tone of voice and 55 percent to nonverbal communication.
Rather than load you down with statistics about non-verbal communication, I’d rather share a recent story. My sister Elizabeth has been in hospitals for over 16 months and most recently admitted to a nursing home. Still unable to walk safely without assistance, AND being in isolation after contracting influenza B, she is dependent on others to bring her every bit of food and water.
Last week another family member was visiting Elizabeth. When her call light wasn’t answered, the family member went to the nurse’s station to request fresh water. There were three nursing assistants at the desk engaged in a personal conversation about their upcoming holiday dinners. After waiting for a full minute, my family member asked if one of them would please help her. The three stopped their conversation and one asked in an irritated tone, “What do you need?” To which my family member responded that Elizabeth needed fresh water. The three exchanged glances – one rolling her eyes as if to say, “Here we go again.” She sighed and said in her most burdened voice, “I’ll do it.”
When my family member told me the story she cried and said, “If that is how they responded to me, I cannot imagine how they treat her.” Non-verbal language speaks much louder than the words. Even if you could look past the exchanged side glances, the eye rolling is a sign of sheer disdain. What non-verbal communication do your patients and families see? Actions speak volumes.