MISINTERPRETATIONS OF NONVERBAL MESSAGES
a. Although nonverbal communication can be very revealing, it can also be
easily misinterpreted. Consider the following situations.
(1) You are talking to a patient and he yawns. What goes through your
mind? Do you think he is bored? Did he not sleep well last night? Did he eat too much
at lunchtime? Maybe your interpretation depends to some extent on your mood or how
you slept the night before.
(2) Your patient is slumped over in his chair. Do you wonder if he is
unhappy about something? Is he tired? Does he have naturally poor posture? Is he
not feeling well? Is he lacking self-confidence? Is he relaxed?
(3) You are a patient and your health care provider comes in looking grim
and silent. Do you assume he is just having a bad day? Does he dislike you? Does he
dislike his job? Is your condition much worse than he had suspected?
b. Interpretation of nonverbal communication is also complicated by the fact that
the same act can have several different meanings, depending on a person's cultural,
religious, or family background. Some examples are listed below.
(1) In some cultures, it is natural and polite to look directly into the eyes of
the person with whom you are communicating. In others, it may be interpreted as being
improper or disrespectful, especially when speaking to a person of authority.
(2) In some families, kissing, embracing, and holding hands are normal and
encouraged behavior. In others, these behaviors are rarely practiced and may be
perceived as being annoying or offensive.
(3) To one person, standing a foot away from someone else during a
conversation may be a perfectly comfortable distance. For another person, that same
distance may feel so close and invading that he is distracted from what is being said.