Our Body Language: Are We Building Trust or Sending Mixed Messages?

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eyesI work with folks with dementia as a Per Diem Staff RN and despite my frequent complaints about staffing, actually love this kind of patient care.  As a communications expert, there are endless and fascinating observations.  Like two women sitting at a table together.  One is going on and on and on and on about one or two life stories, perhaps involving her late husband and the farm they once owned together.  (He has passed away and the farm was sold years ago, but this aspect of reality is not noted.) The other woman is sitting opposite her, seems to be making eye contact,  and nodding, yet to our knowledge is almost completely deaf.  It seems very unlikely that any of the content or verbal language that the first woman is sharing, is making it through to the other woman.

Nevertheless, they are in relationship during this time!

Another thing I notice is that this population will develop trust or mistrust of caregivers and other residents that seems to be based on experiences and time.  Even though, remembering a particular nurse’s name or anything about her/him is also unlikely, trust and relationship-building is going on, (or NOT) all the time.

Some of the ways I build trust is to be honest as much as I can be and provide realistic choices whenever possible.  For instance, “I have some medicine for you mixed up in applesauce.  It will probably taste gross.  I’m sorry.”  If s/he is willing to take the medicine then we might make sour faces at each other and  I’ll offer something good to drink.  Now, I can’t prove that this ‘dialogue’ builds trust, but I think it does.  Even if s/he doesn’t understand one single word I said.  I think being honest and caring matter and that human beings are picking up on and sending all sorts of clues with our eyes, tone,  facial expression, and body position. And maybe even some pheromones that someone is researching this very minute!

Being aware of the messages we may be sending non-verbally can be helpful in dating and job interviewing as suggested in a 2/18/13 blogpost Say What You Mean:  Using Body Language to Send a Message by Staff Writers at www.onlineuniversities.com. The article make some excellent points about body language basics with some great graphics that illustrate some important dos and don’ts.

When our body language is not in line with what we are saying, I think we are sending mixed messages.  Of course, sometimes crossing arms can mean we’re cold or rolling eyes can be because of an eye-catching stain on the ceiling so when in doubt, conversations are extremely important for clarifying.

Yet, what if we are building (or destroying) trust in subtle ways with any interactions that involve non verbal cues?  Granted our signals or radar may not be perfect, and probably influenced with past our experiences, hopes and fears, but worth paying attention to.  What do you think?

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What are your thoughts?