Professional language is necessary to convey precise meanings in all specialized fields, but the use of such language can also create barriers between professionals and members of the groups that they serve. When practitioners use the specialized lexicon of their profession with people who are not in the same field, they may create both positive and negative impressions about their knowledge. While non-practitioners are likely to recognize the need for using precise, professional terminology, they may find that the professional is deliberately emphasizing their superior knowledge—a feeling that can be very off-putting.
The power dynamics between professionals in different fields may be relatively equal, especially if the educational requirements are similar. For example, a professor with a doctoral degree in education is likely to believe they have the same status as a physician with a medical degree. The medical field, however, is one in which unequal power dynamics, sometimes exacerbated by differing levels of education, are notably associated with professional language and nonverbal behaviors. The patient’s understanding of a physician’s attitude can not only create uncomfortable group situations but also have an impact on health-related diagnostics and treatment.
The role of nonverbal elements of professional language and behavior provides the informal term “white coat syndrome” or “white coat hypertension.” In this widespread, well-documented phenomenon, patient anxiety about interacting with medical professionals—who often wear white coats—or simply being in a medical setting can influence blood-pressure readings. Blood pressure that seems normal when measured at home may show a high reading when measured in the physician’s office or clinic.