Are there factors outside formal professional designation that affect group dynamics? How does the use of professional language/jargon affect the group process? How do various people respond to jargon (verbal/nonverbal behaviors)?

The use of professional language/jargon affects the group process by reflecting and influencing the power dynamics of group members. By using language that is unfamiliar to people outside a profession, a practitioner can imply that they possess special knowledge and thus have superior status over the nonprofessional. This power dynamic is often evident in physician and patient interactions. The nonverbal aspect of such interactions is captured by the term “white coat syndrome,” which often affects blood pressure.

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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.

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