nursing communicationNurses, on a scale of 1 to 10, how good of a communicator would you say you are? Maybe a six? Or a seven? Maybe you’re feeling pretty confident on your nursing communication skills and would say an eight.


What if the question was, “How good of a communicator are you in the ‘heat of battle’ when you completely disagree with the other person’s point of view?”


Does that change your rating? Did it rise or fall?


The sad reality is that there are very few good communicators in this world. 


If you can master the skill of being a good communicator, you will be in the top 5 to 10 percent of any profession, including nursing. 


The definition of a good communicator is: openly and honestly expressing your thoughts and feelings while allowing the other person to openly and honestly express their thoughts and feelings.


The key words here are 'openly' and 'honestly'. 


This is more than being nice and respectful, or just getting along. It is creating an atmosphere for open dialogue, sharing ideas, hopes and dreams, listening to each other, and problem solving, together. 


Communication is stifled by all types of bad habits:


  • Truth - When you insist that “you are right and the other person is wrong.”



  • Put-downs - When you imply that the other person is a loser because they 'always' or 'never' do certain things.
  • Passive-aggression - When you pout or withdraw and say nothing.
  • Sarcasm - When nurses' body language and words don't match.
  • Counterattack - When you respond to criticism with criticism instead of acknowledging how the other person feels.
  • Diversion - When you bring up the past instead of dealing with the 'here and now'.



Now is the time to 'grow up'.

In order to eliminate these bad habits, you have to first acknowledge that everyone struggles with them. You have developed them over a lifetime (perhaps for good reason). You need to be honest with yourself, thoughtfully work to remove these habits, and create a positive atmosphere of communication for nurses

Here are five essential techniques to becoming a good communicator:

  1. Disarming

    Find some truth in what the other person is saying, even if you feel they are totally wrong, unreasonable, irrational or unfair.

Disarming sounds like this: “You’re right. I often make mistakes.”

  1. Empathy

    Put yourself in the other person's shoes and try to see the world through their eyes. There are two kinds of empathy in nursing: thought empathy paraphrases their words and feeling empathy acknowledges how they feel. 

Thought empathy sounds like this: “I want to get this straight. Are you angry with the way I spoke to you?”

Feeling empathy sounds like this: “You seem very hurt and frustrated with me.”

  1. Inquiry

    Ask gentle, probing questions to learn more about what the other person is thinking and feeling.  

Inquiry sounds like this: “Can you give me an example?”

  1. “I Feel" Statements

    Express your feelings with “I feel” statements rather than “you” statements – “you're wrong” or “you make me furious.” 

“I Feel” statements sound like this: “I feel upset.”  

  1. Stroking

    Find something genuinely positive to say to the other person. This indicates that you respect them even though you may be angry with them.

Stroking sounds like this: “I really appreciate how much you care about your patients.”


No one is born a good communicator.


It is a skill that is developed with practice. Consider writing these five essential techniques on an index card and carrying them around for a few weeks. This will give you a chance to practice each one until you have them mastered.


  • Practice them with your family, patients and co-workers.



  • Practice them in difficult and easy nursing scenarios.



  • Practice them one at a time or simultaneously.   



Being skilled with nursing communication is not about the other person’s response; it’s 100% about your response. 



Burns, D. (1999). The Feeling Good Handbook. Penguin Putnam Inc. New York.