How Effective is Our Nursing Communication?

Communication is one area of human life that be either a massive help or a major hindrance to getting things done. For millennia, humans have struggled to perfect the art of communication through the development of spoken languages, written alphabets, facial expressions, and even technology. Indeed, communication is imperative to proper connection to others and progress for oneself.

There are a lot of things that can impede our ability to communicate correctly, and it’s important to recognize that how we communicate is often as important, or more so, than what we communicate.  In nursing, the issue of communication can be an absolute minefield, especially when dealing with coworkers and superiors. Here are a few things to consider when looking at your own communication as a nurse in the medical field.

Non-Verbal Communication

Most of the communication we perform each day is through non-verbal means. In other words, our facial expressions, gestures, and stance often say more than what our words can do. One thing to pay particular attention to is that your non-verbal communication matches the message of your spoken communication. For example, if you enter a room to discuss a new positive development with your patient and their family and you have a very serious demeanor and don’t crack a smile, the patient will probably expect bad news. This can create confusion when you reveal the positive news. Instead, pay attention to the intent and feeling of your message and make sure that your body language mirrors that.

  • Maintain proper eye contact. Don’t stare, but don’t avoid looking at the other person directly. Avoid rolling your eyes or having them shift about too much.
  • Keep hands relaxed and calm. Gesturing wildly or fidgeting can make the other person feel anxious. If you are talking with coworkers or a physician, take special care to not make defensive gestures, which could indicate discomfort.
  • Keep your hips facing whoever you are talking to. This will point your body in the right direction and will indicate your interest and full attention.
  • Try keeping your feet pointed towards the person you are communicating with, along with your hips. This will let them know that you are giving them your full attention. Pointing them away could indicate that you are tired of the conversation and are ready to leave.

Say What You Mean

When communicating with others, don’t be afraid to be direct. You should say exactly what you mean to avoid any confusion on the part of the listener. If you have something pressing or important to discuss with a supervisor, it might be a good idea to plan out in advance what you want to say. For the very important conversations, you may want to practice with a friend or trusted coworker. They will be able to listen to your message and let you know if anything was confusing or came out the wrong way.

Watch Your Tone

As a child, you may have been warned against using certain tones with your parents. While it may have seemed annoying at the time, the tone that we choose to convey our message will indeed affect how it is received. For example, there is a big difference between being mean and being constructive. Both ways may point out something that can be improved upon, like keeping up with deadlines for paperwork, but being mean about it will probably be less productive than pointing out a mistake gently and offering help for improvement. If you’ve ever heard the phrase “you’ll catch more flies with honey than with vinegar,” remember it when communicating with others, especially if it’s a conversation where you might come off as the bad guy.

Written Communication

Written communication is particularly tricky because tone doesn’t come out as well this way. If you’ve ever seen an argument in an internet comment thread, you’ll notice that a lot of the time the argument appears due to misunderstanding. If you are sending an email or a handwritten note to someone, take the time to do some revising and editing after you write your first draft. Check for typos or other errors and read through to make sure you’re conveying the right message with the correct tone. If it helps, have someone read over what you’ve written and let them know what you think. That way you’ll be able to make any changes before you send it off.

Final Thoughts

Communication is hard, there’s no question there. But it’s also essential. Whether you are conversing with patients, their families, physicians, or co-nurses, being an expert at communication will help you in any situation. From preventing medical errors to offering compassionate care, good communication skills will make you a better nurse than you already undoubtedly are.