Hey, Can We Talk? Improving Workplace Communication

Hey, Can We Talk? Improving Workplace Communication

A nurse’s training takes years of school, years of on-the-job experience, and years of adjusting emotionally to a job that can be as draining as it is exhilarating.

But even if you perform your nursing duties above exception, you still might find the toughest part of your job is communicating with your peers and colleagues. In a career as high-stress and fast-paced as nursing, developing a positive and effective communication style is essential.

If you think your style could use some work, taking steps to improve your communication skills helps in many different ways. People will understand what you’re trying to say faster, and when there’s less friction with others, your job becomes easier. The positive results reduce stress for everyone.

How can you fine-tune your communication style?

Be Aware

Do you know you have a reputation for being difficult or hard to work with? Do you know why? If you’re in charge of a staff of 15 emergency department nurses, you have to be exacting, precise, and demanding and that might come across as tough on people. But lives depend on it. Problems crop up when colleagues see your expectations as unrealistic or your approach as disrespectful.

Lead with Confidence

Effective leaders trust the people who work for them to do their job as expected. Micromanaging employees who have proved to be skilled, dependable, and excellent nurses should be allowed to do their jobs within the established framework. If your need to get involved is overshadowing others’ abilities to do their jobs, look deeper to see if there’s a valid reason. If there is, bring it up and talk about it openly with the employee.

Work Together

Would you want to work with you? Some people joke about being difficult and they know part of the reason is they speak impulsively or are quick to accuse because that’s the way they have always done it. Learning how to state expectations clearly, ask for what you need directly, and speak only to the people you are having trouble with is necessary.

Don’t Assume

Your coworkers are not mind readers. If you are tired of one of your colleagues continually leaving a messy workstation or not being fast enough to respond to a request, your frustrated cold-shoulder treatment isn’t going to help. Communication is a two-way street, so you need to communicate your frustration and give your coworker time to reply. Just because you are unhappy doesn’t mean they know why.

Take Stock of Yourself

When you feel yourself getting defensive or just abrupt or you sense others are reacting negatively to you, take a minute to reassess. What’s your tone like? How is your body positioned? Are your words matching what you’re trying to get across? Taking stock lets you identify triggers. If your voice is getting raised, lower it. Adopt a purposefully neutral physical stance. Listen to what others are saying without interrupting.

Practice Communicating

It might be embarrassing, but ask a couple of trusted coworkers about your strengths and weaknesses in communicating. By giving them a chance to identify both, they will be more likely to share their honest opinions. And don’t get defensive about the bad stuff or too proud of the good stuff. Take it all and figure out how you can use the information to become a better communicator.

Boost Communication With Medical Improv

Boost Communication With Medical Improv

Anyone prepping for a new experience will often rehearse scenarios to make sure everything goes right. If you’re giving a presentation, don’t you often run through it in your head at least once? When running a road race, others might mentally map the route so they know where the toughest points are. Well, your job is really no different. Prepping and rehearsing for all kinds of outcomes will only help you when the real situation is at hand.

Beth Boynton, RN, MS, and author of the upcoming book Successful Nurse Communication: Safe Care, Healthy Workplaces, and Rewarding Careers, brings healthcare professionals together for a spontaneous kind of theater-inspired rehearsal called medical improv.

Medical improv is a type of applied improv to help providers and consumers in situations that are unique to healthcare,” she says. So, no, you aren’t going to be asked to do your best comedy routine or even something funny. The great part of practicing these scenarios with others is that participants rehearse for the best outcomes, but also learn how to play off others’ ideas and reactions.

You cannot participate in improv without listening and speaking up,” Boynton says. Part of the medical improv model is that participants have to be willing to participate in what is going on and to move forward as the topic unfolds. The communication skills gained during a medical improv session greatly improve team interactions and even patient and caregiver interactions when situations arise. The more you can learn to really and fully listen and then communicate your own views in a respectful and concise way, the more positive interactions are.

How can medical improv help nurses who likely already feel their work days are filled with on-the-spot decisions? “It increases your ability to think spontaneously, and your critical thinking skills are improved,” says Boynton. “And you stay focused.” Because medical improv helps you hone in on paying careful attention, you really learn to listen to what others are saying and notice what they are doing.

For interpersonal relationships, medical improv adds a layer of bonding as well. The kinds of activities and scenarios in medical improv are very specific to what is found in healthcare as opposed to other industries. Among colleagues who always depend on each other, medical improv activities strengthen those bonds and build trust and respect.

But no one said improvisation is easy, and it doesn’t always feel natural. “It’s challenging at first but it gets you out of that clinical environment that is so intensely pressured,” says Boynton. “It’s hard to practice new behaviors in that environment.”

And what might nurses notice about using medical improv skills? They might learn to change their knee-jerk reactions to certain situations, but they might also learn very subtle skills like body language to help comfort patients.

And in the end, they might find they’re able to listen more intently and have greater understanding of what’s going on in front of them and behind the scenes as well.