5 Most Useful Nursing Communication Skills

April 1, 2021
April 1, 2021

Effective and professional communication skills are some of the most important attributes of a successful nurse. They make it easier to work with colleagues and support care that is patient-centric, one the primary goals of healthcare. Communicating well includes listening, so that patient concerns are heard and understood and incorporated in any treatment provided. Likewise, a nurse who knows what concerns a patient most is better able to respond appropriately in the case of a crisis.

Poor communication has a very significant impact on treatment outcomes. One of the most worrisome is when patients fail to understand directions and then impair the success of any treatment. The University of Saint Augustine for Health Sciences reminds us that “A report by the Joint Commission found that poor communication during patient transfers contributed to 80% of serious medical errors.”

Primary Nurse Communication Skills

Here are five of the most useful nursing communication skills:

1. Verbal Effectiveness for Nurses

According to the Houston Chronicle, “Much of the work nurses do depends on their ability to speak well, to both patients and other medical personnel.” Nurses need to speak with clarity, at a speed and volume that is effective for every patient to hear and understand. The same source reminds us that “How well a patient's condition is evaluated also depends on the nurse's ability to speak to the patient when asking questions.” Likewise, the ability to communicate effectively with colleagues and doctors is essential for better patient outcomes. Poor communication between nurses and providers, however, can have a significant negative effect on patient safety, quality of care, patient outcomes, and patient as well as staff satisfaction.

2. Non-verbal Awareness for Nurses

Nursing Times reminds us that for nurses, “It is impossible not to communicate in an interaction. Even when silent, we transmit messages – deliberately and accidentally. The nurse who stands when a patient enters a room and steps forward with a welcoming smile is in stark contrast to the colleague who remains behind a desk looking at the patient’s notes.” Three important suggestions about non-verbal communications for nurses are:

  • Avoid poor posture (patients may interpret slumped shoulders as a lack of confidence, threatening professional credibility)
  • Positive body language incudes smiling when greeting someone and making appropriate eye contact
  • Never look at the clock, your phone, or the door during a patient encounter, which may be interpreted as a desire to leave.

3. Writing Ability

USAHS offers that nurses’ writing ability is key for patient hand-offs to colleagues and medical records. Medical records need to be “accurate and current so your patients can receive the best care possible.” These three suggestions support effective written communication:

  • Record notes immediately to avoid omitting any vital details.
  • Practice clarity by using the simplest necessary wording.
  • Focus on precise recording of dates and times.

4. Relationship Building

Communication in Nursing Practice defines being skilled at creating good personal relationships as “the ability of the nurse to ask questions with kindness and provide information in a way that does not scare, that demonstrates interest, creates feelings of acceptance, trust and a harmonious relationship, especially in modern multicultural society.” Relationships connected to healthcare rely on effective communication between health professionals and patients to share information, as well as “to effectively address mental processes which are activated by” the process of receiving care. What needs to come across is the clinician’s authentic concern and commitment to the welfare of the patient.

5. Compassion

In the Journal of Nurses in Professional Development, we learn that “The effective demonstration of empathy and compassion involves a conversation (however long or brief it may be) between the nurse and the patient. When demonstrating empathy, the patient is encouraged to do the talking (to tell his or her story or explain his or her concerns), and the nurse has the opportunity to make a connection with the patient. The nurse can do this most effectively not just by ‘being quiet and just listening’ (although, at times, that is an effective method) but also by actively showing the ability to understand and relate to the emotions behind what the patient is expressing about his or her experience.”

Ultimately, communication is key for nurses’ success, both in terms of the outcomes they facilitate for patients, and their own satisfaction with their careers and the nursing profession. There are ways that healthcare organizations can support nursing, especially in terms of following best practices for organizational communication with nurses and the efforts they make to eliminate the maddening and frustrating communicational ‘noise’ involved with shift scheduling, policy changes, and sending too many emails.

Learning Options for Improving Nurse Communication Skills

DigitalMed: Leadership and Communication Collection, a 15-course bundle for nurses, that includes “Communication and Culture,” predicated on the belief that “the development of trust and integrity facilitates a positive relationship and improves communication.”

Sigma: Frontline Leader Certificate Program, an evidence-based course that provides clinical charge nurses/frontline leaders with the knowledge and skills essential for their role. Topics covered include conflict management, communication, coaching, and feedback skills in case-based scenarios concerning customer relations, patient safety, interprofessional and intradepartmental situations.