5 Communication Techniques for Nurse Leaders

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Effective communication by nurses is a mission-critical asset for delivering positive treatment outcomes. [1] This can only take place when nursing professionals proactively seek to sincerely understand their patients, and complement this with the passion, courtesy, and kindness that defines the best of their profession.

During medical engagements, it’s also important that nurses maintain patient confidentially. This may be accomplished by maintaining an acute awareness of the surrounding environment, and by being aware of nearby parties who should not have knowledge of the client’s personal information. This may include other patients, as well as non-stakeholder medical personnel.

Breaking Barriers for Effective Communication

Some health care organizations may still foster a culture that discourages employees from reporting negative events. [2] From an ethical viewpoint, patient safety takes precedence over loyalty to peers and superiors, especially when those individuals are not conforming to safety procedures.

As a step in promoting a culture of open communication, nurse professionals must display fortitude in reporting unsafe conditions and adverse events. In the modern caregiving environment, it is no longer acceptable to blindly follow instructions. Silence can lead to negative treatment outcomes, or worse – to a mortal event.

Nurse leaders can teach effective communication skills to practitioners, starting with the following five techniques.

Active listening

As a nursing professional, the desire to comfort patients can sometimes interfere with sound professional judgment. [3] In such instances, it is vital that practitioners compartmentalize their personal feelings regarding a patient or case. It is, however, important to attempt to understand medical cases from the perspective of the patient. Although occasionally difficult, understanding how a patient feels during a hospital visit is important for gaining an understanding of how that individual might think, or how that patient might respond to treatment. Nurses who can empathize in this way often find they can better treat patients on many levels.

Identifying Verbal and Non-Verbal Cues

Patients can relay important information by obvious means such as speech, and by discrete means such as body language or gestures. Verbal and non-verbal cues are the building blocks of nurse-patient rapport, and are important indicators for identifying client needs. By recognizing these verbal and non-verbal indicators, nurses can distinguish the true meanings behind what patients are saying, and how they are feeling. For example, if a patient avoids eye contact, it’s valid to assume they are afraid of something, or trying to hide from a circumstance they do not want to face.

Managing Conflict

Workplace conflicts typically arise due to such factors as limited resources, ineffective work practices, or exhaustion. [2] Ineffectual communication among the medical team can lead to poor treatment outcomes and, in some cases, patient deaths. Nurses (and all medical professionals) can avoid these unfortunate consequences by avoiding poor communication behaviors such as blaming, finger pointing, and misdirecting aggression. Instead, it’s a good practice to learn how to disagree respectfully with colleagues, especially when team consensus remains elusive.

Honesty and Openness

Nurse practitioners who have a positive self-image usually find it easier to be honest with themselves about their feelings. Positive self-image builds confidence and allows practitioners to ask for honest workplace feedback that may uncover opportunities for professional improvement.

This open and honest characteristic also allows nurse practitioners to accept and benefit from constructive criticism, all signs of a mature medical professional. Such individuals own their mistakes and quickly make amends. Additionally, a mature, professional demeanor makes it easier for nurses to learn from their missteps and avoid repeating errors in the future.

Sincere Empathy

By engaging people with thoughtfulness and genuine concern, nurses send the message that they truly care about helping patients heal. [1] It’s important that nurses present information in a way that is reassuring, expresses interest in patient welfare, and builds rapport. Although this empathetic approach may seem obvious, it’s not always easy to sustain these practices during busy shifts, or when delivering information about undesirable treatment outcomes.

Sincere empathy is essential for building a nurse-patient relationship that promotes healing. Nurses who display genuine concern foster an atmosphere where patients are more likely to participate in their own recoveries. Learning effective communication that is based on both experience and learned skills is part of every nurse’s duty to “do no harm.” Excellent communication skills also help practitioners improve the quality of care they deliver on a daily basis. In a modern, multicultural society, proficient and honest communication will always serve as a valued tool in the toolkit of the nurse practitioner.

Learn More

Health care is a dynamic and ever-evolving field, and more is now expected of nurse leaders. In fact, the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN) has called for a doctoral level education to become the requirement for advanced practice nursing. Earning an online Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) puts MSN-credentialed nurses like you at the forefront of the industry — prepared for leadership, nurse education, patient care, and to shape future policies and procedures in health care.

Recommended Readings

10 Tips for Nurses to Effectively Communicate with Elderly Patients
Understanding Clinical Nurse Specialists
How Nurse Practitioners Can Become Community Advocates


[1] US National Library of Medicine – National Institutes of Health
[2]The Online Journal of Issues in Nursing
[3] RCNi