When nurses think of the big responsibilities in their careers, patient safety is predominant. But communication skills? Those aren’t often at the top of the list.
Nurses train for years to ensure the safety of their patients. Their unwavering advocacy for patients has done nothing less than transform healthcare. But patient safety can’t happen without clear communication skills. Nurses must have excellent communication skills to provide the best care for patients and to earn the respect of their peers.
What kinds of communication skills will nurses use? Here is just a small sample of how nurses use various communications skills throughout the day:
- Communicating with healthcare team members on a patient’s condition, diagnosis, treatment, complications, progress
- Explaining to patients about self care, about their diagnosis and prognosis, about resources, and about everything from medications to diet and exercise
- Talking with family and loved ones about patient needs, follow-up care, disease, recovery, medication
- Communicating with professionals in non-healthcare fields to help secure grants, influence policy, or explain a professional need
- Educating the public on healthcare issues that are important to their age, region, or personal health, or educating students on nursing practices or nursing career options
How can you improve your communication skills? Here are a few pointers:
- Be precise and clear. If you need information or you need someone to do something, say so. If you are giving information, present it in basic terms.
- Ask if anyone has questions. Your audience could be a roomful of academics at a conference, a team of colleagues in your unit, or a single patient—always ask if anyone has follow-up questions. Don’t assume that your audience heard and understood everything you said. This last step gives you an opportunity to recognize where your communication can be strengthened and to convey the needed information.
- Write clearly. Whether you are writing a memo or a research paper, use fewer words and make them have greater impact. Decide what you are trying to say, use short paragraphs for ease, add bullet points to emphasize your main points, and make sure you reread everything before you send it..
- Consider your tone and body language. The way you speak and hold yourself can support your words and intent, but if they are out of whack, your unspoken actions can cause confusion. Make sure you speak in even tones when possible and that your body language is approachable.
- Learn about best practices. You’ll find books, seminars, presentations, and even casual discussions that can all help you sharpen your skills. If you’re a nurse manager, bring this up in each employee review and ask for it in turn from your own supervisor.
Communication can always be improved. Each time it is, your capability as a nurse is strengthened.