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Communication for Health care Workers

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Different localities, ethnic groups, professions and work cultures all have their own words phrases and speech patterns. These localities and groups may be referred to as different communities. Some people may feel threatened or excluded by the kind of language they encounter in these speech communities, However just using formal language will not solve this problem.

The technical terminology used by care workers (often referred to as jargon) can also create barriers for people who are not part of that ‘speech community’. When people from different geographical areas use different words and pronounce words differently they are often using a different dialect. Some social groups use slang- non-standard words that are understood by other members of a speech community but which cannot usually be found in a dictionary.

First language

The author and psychologist Steven Pinker (1994) estimated that there may be about 600 languages in the world that are spoken by more that 100,000 people. There are many more minority languages. Some people grow up in multilingual communities, where they learn several languages from birth. But many people in the UK have grown up using only one language to think and communicate. People who learn a second language later in life often find that they cannot communicate their thoughts as effectively as they have done using their first language. The first language that people have learned to think in usually becomes their preferred language.

Non-Verbal communication

Within a few seconds of meeting an individual you will usually be able to tell what they are feeling. You will know whether the person is tired, happy, angry, sad, frightened even before they say anything. You can usually guess what a person feels by studying their non-verbal communication.

Non-verbal means ‘without words’, so nonverbal communication refers to the messages that we send without using words. We send these messages using our eyes, the tone of our voice, our facial expression, our hands and arms, gestures with our hands and arms, the angle of our head, the way we sit or stand (known as body posture) and the tension in our muscles.


The way you sit or stand can send messages. Sitting with crossed arms can mean ‘I’m not taking any notice’. Leaning back can send the mesasage that you are relaxed or bored. Leaning forward can show interest or intense involvement.

The way you move

As well as posture your body movements will communicate messages. For example, the way you walk, move your head, sit, cross your legs and so on will send messages about whether you are tiered, happy, sad or bored.

Facing other people

The way in which you face other people can also communicate emotional messages. Standing or sitting face-to-face may send a message that you are being formal or angry. A slight angle can create a more relaxed and friendly feeling.


Gestures are hand and arm movements that can help us to understand what a person is saying. Some gestures carry a common meaning in most communities in the UK.

Facial expression

Your face often indicates your emotional state. When a person is sad they may signal this emotion by looking down- there may be tension in their face and their mouth will be closed. The muscles in the person’s shoulders are likely to be relaxed but their face and neck may show tension. A happy person will have ‘wide eyes’ that make contact with you- and they will probably smile. When people are excited they move their arms and hands to indicate this.

We can guess another person’s feelings or thoughts by looking at their eyes, using eye-to-eye contact. Our eyes get wider when we are excited, attracted to, or interested in someone else. A fixed stare may send the message that someone is angry.


Touch is another way of communicating without words. Touching another person can send messages of care, affection, power of them or sexual interest. The social setting and a person’s body language will usually help you to understand what their touch might mean. But touch can easily be misinterpreted. You might try to comfort someone by holding their hand but they may interpret this as an attempt to dominate. Sometimes it can be a good idea to ask if you may touch, or gesture in a way that allows another person to refuse your touch, before proceeding.

People may also look at, or feel, the degree of muscle tension that you show when you communicate with them. The tension in your feet hands and fingers can tell others how relaxed or tense you are. If someone is very tense their shoulders might stiffen, their face muscles might tighten and they might sit or stand rigidly. A person who is tense may have a firmly closed mouth, with lips and jaws clenched tight, and they might breathe quickly.


One definition of friends is ‘people who can sit together and feel comfortable in silence’. Sometimes a pause in conversation can make people feel embarrassed- it looks as if you weren’t listening or you weren’t interested. Sometimes a silent pause can mean ‘let’s think’ or ‘I need time to think’. Silent pauses can be OK as long as non-verbal messages show that respect and interest are given. Silence doesn’t always stop the conversation.

Silence can just be a way of showing that you care and are willing to listen to a person and can be comforting to the person as they know you are there to listen and care about them.

Tone of voice

When you speak to other people, your tone of voice is important. If you talk to other people quickly in a loud voice with a fixed tone, people may think that you are angry. A calm, slow voice with a varying tone may send a message of being friendly.


The space between people can sometimes show how friendly or ‘intimate’ the conversation is. Different cultures have different customs regarding the space between people when they are talking.

In Britain there are expectations or ‘norms’ as to how close to be when talking to others. When with strangers keep them at arm’s length. The ritual of shaking hands indicates that you have been introduced- you may come closer. When you are friendly with some one you may accept them being closer to you. Relatives and partners may not have any restrictions as to how close they come. Proximity is very important in health and social care settings because many people have a sense of personal space, and a care worker invading that persons personal space with out asking or explaining why may be seen as dominant or aggressive.

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