Communication comes in many forms when interacting with our patients. It is how we interact with one another using many forms, which may include:

  • Verbal communication
  • What we say and how we say it?
  • Tone, pace, volume, clarity
  • Non-verbal communication
  • Body language - gestures, facial expression, posture, eye contact, mirroring postures, gestures.
  • Inter-personal skills
  • Listening skills - Reflective or relay/feedback.

Being an effective communicator, a person needs to listen not hear, hearing information and listening to what has been said is entirely a different perspective.
When people communicate, there is a change of verbal and non verbal cues between both people. The listener and the communicator.

Why do I need to use it correctly?

Communicating effectively develops skill acquisition and rapport with people, not just patients , but family members also.

What can I do to get the best out of an interview with my patient?

Questioning styles - Open and closed questions during an interview with a patient. Depending upon which type of questions you ask a patient will determine how much they disclose to you. Obviously the key to any therapeutic relationship is your own self assessment of how they are presenting when you initially meet them and knowing when to terminate the session to safe guard yourself as well as the relationship.

Open questions:

  • What?
  • When?
  • Where?
  • Why?
  • Who?
  • How?

These are open ended questions, unlike the closed questions these, will more than likely get you a better response, increase the response we get from the patient. In order to get a better response from the patient.

Closed questions:

  • Do you?
  • Has this?
  • Have you?
  • Is it ?
  • Can you?
  • Are you?

These questions will generally give you a short response. Depending on the individual you are interviewing, the patient will respond in either yes or no answers or give you short replies. So it is always important to know the difference between each so that you get more from your patient. If you struggle with collecting information from your patient, you can try to use the following to expand their replies:

For more details, Tell me more about this:

  • Expand on that, if you can

To provide a focus:

  • What specifically do you mean by that

Reflecting (conclude or summarise) back what has been said to the patient. This shows that you have fully understood the feedback from your patient and the patient knows you are listening to them.

  • Okay then, just to clarify, is this right?
  • Just so I am on board with what you are said you , your experiencing X, Y Z, is that right ?
  • To summarise then, your concerns are (X), and you would like to improve (Y) so you can achieve (Z), is that correct?

Reflecting back the information to the patient is what is known as feedback or “relay of information”.
By following simple steps as above, it is the beginning of the therapeutic relationship.

Individuals need to use appropriate body language, listen to the information that has been discussed, weight up and clarify points and then relay the information back to the other party to ensure all information has been accurately received.

Body Language

How can body language impact the therapeutic relationship?

Simply put, We emit visual cues when we communicate with people. Our posture, facial expression, gestures, eye contact, tone of voice, pace of speech all are important when communicating with our patients.

Closed posture - arms folded, knees crossed, lack of eye contact

Open posture- open arms, leans forward, good eye contact but not fixed, reiterates points in a calm but firm tone.

When you talk with a patient for the first time, the first 30 seconds will be very important for whether or not the patient/client decides to engage with you.

Example 1 - If you greet a patient with your arms closed, monotone , lack of eye contact or interest in the person, stuttering of speech or high pitched tone.
This is not a true representation of yourself and could have an impact upon the engagement process because whether this a true picture of yourself the patient will pick up on your non verbal cues.

Example 2 - I greet a person with my hand, I welcome them to the seat, my posture remains open but relaxed a little to let the patient know they do not need to feel threatened, I show good eye contact but do not stare.
These cues, gives an indication that I am an assertive individual, a good communicator.
This may have a positive impact dependent on the person who you are interviewing.

More about body language and engagement process will be explored in another article.

Food for thought though, 9/10 patients will pick up on our non verbal cues e.g. gestures, body language immediately. So be mindful.
Watch out for them as it could have consequences to engagement.


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Categories: Occupational-Therapy

Tags: Body-Language Communication Feedback Interpersonal-skills Non-verbal Patients Posture Questions Skills Verbal


"There is no standard normal. Normal is subjective. There are seven billion versions of normal on this planet."

― Matt Haig, Reasons to Stay Alive