Communication is a tricky business. There’s so much more involved than just the words we use. Meaning is also conveyed by our tone, gestures, eye contact, facial expressions, posture, and other body language.

You may have responded to a parent’s question with the right words, but if they’re not supported by and congruent with your demeanor and nonverbal language, then you may have undermined the positive message you intended.

Here are four actions you can take to improve your nonverbal language:

1. Look patients and parents in the eye

If you’re looking down or away, people will feel that you’re not giving them your full attention or, worse, that you don’t mean what you say. Whether you work out front or in the back, you need to make sure that the person you’re talking with has your full attention.

2. Don’t cross your arms.

This is a defensive, closed posture, which can be interpreted by others that you’re not really listening to what’s being said because you have already made up your mind.

3. Listen, really listen.

Orthodontic practices are busy places, and it can be difficult to listen to parents and patients, especially if the conversation starts taking longer than a few minutes. After all, you have other work to get to. But they are coming to you for information, answers, or help. Pay attention… make eye contact (see above)… nod your head when they make a point you understand… ask questions when you’re not sure what they’re trying to convey… and repeat back what they told you in your own words. These behaviors demonstrate you’re actively listening to the other person.

4. Maintain a steady tone and volume.

This can be extremely difficult to do when managing tense situations with upset parents. They may raise their voice… they may yell… they may get sarcastic…. You may be tempted to respond in kind, but don’t. You’ll only escalate the situation. Instead, by remaining calm and composed, you’ll help defuse it.

What you say to parents and patients is important, but so is how you say it. Use these four tips to improve your interactions with them. When your words and body language are in alignment, your message will be crystal clear. OP

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