Do you know what the hairy eyeball is?? I do because I’ve been told that I give it without even knowing it. It’s that look that gives away what I’m thinking. It might be a glance or a raised eye brow, or my eyes might open a little more widely. Whatever it looks like, I have to be vigilant about it because so much can be read into it. We all know that our nonverbal communication speaks much more loudly than our words, so being aware of what we are saying with our facBlue Muppet with Only Eyeses and bodies during assessments and intervention visits is really important. Let me give you an example.

The Hairy Eyeball in Action

I was the primary provider for a child with multiple disabilities. It was time for his annual IFSP review and I had requested that an OT join the meeting because of concerns related to feeding and fine motor skills. While we were playing and talking with the child’s mother, the child did one of the “things” that I was concerned about which was an atypical hand posture. Without realizing it, I looked at the OT and gave her the hairy eyeball, as if saying “did you see that?” I had no idea that I did this until after the visit was over and a colleague told me. She had tagged along on the visit to observe and very frankly said to me, “You really need to watch the expressions on your face.” She was right. In that quick look to the OT, I was sharing what could have been construed by the parent as a secret message about something being “wrong” with her child. Of course, that wasn’t my intention at all. I just wanted to be sure that the OT saw what I saw so we could address it. What I should have done is called attention to the child’s hand verbally and explained my concern to the whole team. I had actually talked to the child’s mother before so she knew my concern, but using a look to signal the OT was not the best way to handle the situation. The worst part was that I didn’t even realize I was doing it. You better believe that I was much more careful of my body language once I became aware of what I was doing!

Monitoring Your Own Hairy Eyeball

In the last post, I talked about the challenge of working in a family’s home where there is a bug infestation. As mentioned in a comment on that post, we see lots of difficult things. Being aware of how we respond, including what messages we convey with our body and our words, is so important to how we handle the situation. Avoiding the hairy eyeball and being open and honest with families and colleagues is the best course of action. Here are a few ideas about how to do that:

Reflect on your own body language – It’s really hard to become more aware of your own body language without feedback and reflection. Ask someone to observe you during a visit or assessment, or better yet, digitally record yourself then watch and reflect on what you do and say. There is nothing as powerful as watching yourself.

Think about how you view the members of the IFSP team – Do you consider parents to be equal team members? Do you view them as equally worthy of the  information that you would provide to your professional colleagues? If you have a concern, share it with everyone on the team, including the family, and do so in a way that ensures that everyone understands.

Avoid passing secret messages – If it is important for someone to know during a visit or IFSP meeting, then it needs to be shared with everyone. If it only needs to be discussed with a particular team member, wait to do that until after the meeting. Avoid side bar conversations, funny looks, or passing notes. I’ve seen all of these things done in meetings with families and we can do better by making a commitment to not behave this way.

Imagine if you were the family and the educator was giving the OT the hairy eyeball about something your child just did. How would that make you feel? I learned my lesson and worked hard to monitor my behavior and body language from then on. Since more than half of our nonverbal communication comes from body language, and communicating with families is a key skill of EI service providers, it’s something important to think about. Just be careful of what you look like when you think about it. 🙂

How do you monitor your body language during interactions with families and colleagues? How do you handle it when team members are behaving like this?

4 comments on “Beware the Hairy Eyeball…

  • Deana Buck says:

    I had my own “aha” moment about my non-verbal communication when I was part of a team that was having some difficulties. we received some support from our agency and the first step was some kind of 360 inventory so that everyone got feedback from each member of the team. When I read the results from my survey, I was shocked to see how many people mentioned how often I rolled my eyes and sighed. What they communicated was that I was dismissing what people said, even thought I wasn’t comfortable sharing the information verbally. I thought I was communicating an openness to others (by not offering a different perspective) but was sending the opposite message instead. I went home to share the results with my family, and everyone at my table agreed with the feedback and even had their own examples for me to reflect on and consider. Both of my kids could imitate me perfectly –much to my dismay.

    I, like Dana, am so grateful for getting this feedback. We are often unaware of the messages we convey non-verbally. I pay much more attention to my eye rolls and sighs (hopefully happen much less frequently) and am most grateful for my colleagues and family for being honest with me.

    • Thanks for sharing this great example, Deana! Yes, there is nothing like feedback from others. Sometimes it can be a little painful to hear (or see) but if we can be open to it and to adjusting ourselves, it can make us much better service providers.

  • Hilary Bradley says:

    A little off topic but this makes me think of the brief conversation I often have with the therapist who conducts an ASP with me, about the indicator statement. We often try to touch base with each other to briefly review the results of our assessment and decide on an appropriate indicator statement. Sometimes the parent is busy in conversation with the SC and other times we tell the parents that we are going to discuss results briefly and then share with them. If feels a little weird to have this side conversation so I would love to hear ideas or feedback about how others are doing this.

    • I’m so glad you brought this up, Hilary, because side conversations during the assessment are so common. My suggestion would be to wait until the parent and SC are finished and just have your conversation out in the open for everyone to hear. As you can imagine, it’s probably a lot more uncomfortable for the parent to see the providers discussing something, even when you’ve said you’ll tell her later. If I was the parent, I’d be distracted and probably wouldn’t be listening very well to the SC because I’d want to know what you all were saying too. I’d recommend that you talk to your colleague and try to break the habit of having that side conversation. For the next few assessments, try it out and I bet it will go just fine…and you won’t have to feel that weirdness anymore!

      I’d love to hear other ideas on how to handle this too!


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