The Importance of Communication Skills in Nursing

Your first nursing job is exciting… and a little scary. It’s not just a matter of knowing the technical aspects of nursing, but of wondering how you’ll fit into the role. Will you understand the hidden culture of the workplace? Will you feel comfortable asking for support when you need it? Will your co-workers respect you? Will you establish rapport with your patients? A lot of these questions come down to communication skills.

Many new nurses are fortunate to have residency programs which include skillful mentoring. Others need to navigate the terrain more or less on their own. In this article, you will find some tips and also some results to check out if you want to take your study further.

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The Communication Basics

Donna Cardillo, RN and well-known public speaker, has written multiple articles about communication in healthcare settings. She has a number of tips that can aid beginning nurses. Communication isn’t just about what you say. Body language is also paramount. It’s good to angle your body toward someone when you’re speaking. It’s also best to keep a neutral facial expression. If you think about your mental health studies, this makes a lot of sense. Facial expressions are easily misunderstood. And some people have disorders, or traumatic life experiences, that may cause them to perceive facial expressions in an exaggerated way.

Marlene Obermeyer, RN and CE provider, stresses the importance of feedback loops, for meeting people’s emotional reasons as well as their more immediate ones. There are multiple reasons for reflecting back what a person says, as well as using other active listening techniques. One thing to be aware of is how a lack of shared meanings can impede understanding. A nurse should also be aware of incongruities between a patient’s verbal responses and the signals they give.

Communication Pitfalls

Are there particular pitfalls you need to watch out for? Yes. The natural tendency to reassure people can backfire. Make sure you don’t tell people that procedures won’t hurt, or give other assurances that you can’t be sure of yourself. You also want to watch out for telling people you understand what they’re going through. Sometimes it’s most therapeutic just to listen.

Another problem, according to Carillo, is that nurses may speak too freely to co-workers who seem very friendly. She herself was once cajoled into sharing one little thing she didn’t like about her boss. She didn’t imagine that this friendly co-worker would take her words straight to the boss, or that she’d find herself explaining the matter. She emphasizes that it’s good to socialize with your peers, but not to assume that the things you say are off the record.

As a nurse, you’ve doubtlessly studied HIPAA and privacy issues. Cardillo cautions, though, that there are still privacy goofs that nurses still make. Unfortunately, many patients don’t have private rooms. A bigger issue perhaps is the internet.

If you have questions about the internet, like whether you’re still violating confidentiality if you write about patient experiences with identifiable details altered, you can turn to the American Association of Nurses to learn more.

Further Resources

Some people make the mistake of thinking that some people are natural communicators, and the rest are destined to flounder. Communication is a skill that can be practiced and mastered. There are resources to you. You may want to do some of your early CEUs in communication-related skills. One site to bookmark is Navigate Nursing, managed by the American Nurses Association. There are webinars in the areas of communication the areas of most vital for patient safety. The New Mexico Nurses Association recommends a CE Nurse Communication Tool Kit available through the Clinician Consumer Health Advisory Network, noting that it is applicable to various situations in which nurses must communicate assertively with healthcare providers (not just the one it was designed for).

There are the basics to give you confidence your first year or two out in the field, and then there are the skills that can help you become an educator or leader in the future. Carillo advises all nurses to learn the art of public speaking, noting that it’s not just about giving rousing (and carefully crafted) speeches before the masses. Indeed the best speeches are enlarged conversations.