It's not just about what you say
Your non-verbal communication helps to build relationships, provides cues to unspoken concerns and/or emotions, and may help to either reinforce, or contradict, your verbal comments. Importantly, it can also show that you have empathy1.
If you are displaying positive body language, your nonverbal movements and gestures will be communicating interest, enthusiasm, and positive reactions to what others are saying.
Take a minute to reflect on your body language and how it may be helping or hindering your engagement with parents.
Ask yourself the following questions:
- If meeting with two parents, do you regularly make eye contact with them both (unless there are cultural issues that preclude this)? Who do you look at most frequently? Do you display active listening skills, such as head nodding? Are your facial expressions appropriate? Do you use gestures that promote engagement (For example, welcoming hand motions) or detract from it (For example, fidgeting)?
- Do you routinely and actively include fathers and non-birthing parents throughout the visit? What is the position of your body in relation to each parent? Is the layout of the space designed for a group interaction? Are the chairs positioned to maximise everyone’s engagement in the conversation?
- Do you use non-verbal cues to show that you believe the father is a capable and equal parent, such as handing the baby to them to hold during an examination?
- Do the images presented in your service, on your website and in written materials portray diverse parents? Are there pictures of fathers, same-sex couples, single-parents, etc.? Are the colours in your waiting room and on written materials appropriate to engage everyone (For example, not all pink)?
“The language we use and the (antenatal) environments are still geared towards women.”
Health professional – Plus Paternal Survey Participant
“We are supposed to be going into this parenting thing as a team but only one of us is getting any advice or support or acknowledgment.”
Father - Plus Paternal Survey Participant
Continue reading: Service-level language and communication
1. Hall JA, Harrigan JA, Rosenthal R. Nonverbal behavior in clinician-patient interaction. Appl Prev Psychol. 1995;4(1):21–35