The 4 C's of Communication in NursingOne of the most frequently asked questions I've been asked in all my years of mentoring and coaching nurses at all levels, from the bedside to the boardroom, is this: "Why must I say things over and over and still not get my point across?" We forget that communication in nursing is a tricky two-way street.

Unfortunately, this failure to communicate is a pitfall that we all experience from time to time. You not only have to plan for what you are going to speak, write or otherwise convey. You must also put yourself on the receiving side of your message. You have to do your best to determine how you are going to be heard above all the noise that is ever present in your receivers world.

After all, communication is important in our careers, relationships, and of course, to our patients. It can be the tool that sets you apart from the good nurses and makes you an excellent nurse. It can be the vehicle that gets you mentioned in patient satisfaction surveys or requested shift after shift by a patient's family. And if you are interested in the road to promotion, it is a key skill that will place you squarely on that path. 

Here are the four C's of communication in nursing:

  1. Clear.

    If ever there is a place for embracing simplicity, it is in your communication. Keep your message simple, your purpose in mind, and communicate in the simplest manner that will get you your desired results.

    Here is a modified version of the old “KISS” method. K-eep I-t S-hort and S-imple. We live in a world of limited characters and attention spans (think Twitter and Facebook). If you overwhelm your listener with too many words or too much text, they will tune you out. Focus on being clear.

  2. Clean.

    If you break this word down, it literally says clean. That is your goal in written and verbal communication. You want your receiver to see or hear, lean. Based on what we learned in the first C, you already know your message needs to be simple and easy to understand. It also needs to appeal to your listener or reader.

    The key to 'clean' is for your listener or reader to be able to immediately repeat to you what they are to take away from your message. This take away should be something they know to DO after or that they understand as a result of receiving your communication.

    A good way to practice your c-lean message is to get a practice partner you trust, craft your message, and deliver it to that partner. Ask that person to tell you what they are going to do or what they understand as a result of your communication. If they are close, great! You just have a little tweaking to do. Are they out in left field? Then go back, clear it up, and lean it down.

  3. Consequential.

    Of course, when you take the time to communicate, you want it to be consequential, manifesting in the results or behaviors you are after. Remember, only conversation can be off the cuff. To achieve the desired consequence, you must apply different strategies.

    As my business coach says, Begin with the end in mind. It is not enough to know what you want to say, you must craft your message with the end in mind. The words of Yogi Berra sum it up nicely. "If you don't know where you're going, you'll end up somewhere else."

  4. Commitment.

    If you have employed the first three C's and practiced them, you are well on your way to effective nursing communication. However, you have to be aware that you will have to commit to the practice of distilling the message for your listeners. Here is a reminder that you can repeat to yourself that will help you remember the four C's: You will have to practice lean, practice clear, chart your course, and persevere.