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 faces 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?