By: Ronda Winter, RN, Clinical Manager, AMN Healthcare
Whether in a corporate environment or healthcare facility, using professional communication skills is the key to success. At times we are all faced with issues that need to be addressed and approaching the situation using professional communication is the key to a successful outcome. Professional Communication encompasses written, oral, visual and digital communication within a workplace context.
Professional nurses are often faced with opportunities to practice professional communication; these opportunities can occur with an upset patient, family member, physician or a colleague. Your reaction to these situations will speak to who you are as a person and professional. As a travel nurse or a staff member being floated to a new unit, you are out of your comfort zone. Your nonverbal communication on arrival, will set the tone for the rest of your shift so you need to be aware of how you are being perceived. A happy, friendly demeanor will set the stage for the shift or assignment. Nursing requires teamwork so make an effort to be part of the team!
To practice professional communication, consider the following top ten communication tips:
• Emotional Intelligence
o Emotional intelligence is the ability to understand and manage your emotions, allowing you to communicate effectively, avoid stress, overcome challenges and empathize with others.
• Cohesion and Clarity
o Good communication is much more than saying the right thing; it is about communicating messages clearly and concisely.
o A friendly tone will send a message that you are open to communication
o Demonstrating confidence builds client trust that you will follow through with any proposed actions
o Providing empathy indicates respect for the other person’s views and message
o Be respectful of other’s thoughts and opinions
o Do not listen to respond, listen to understand the message the client is sending
o Enter the conversation without preconceived thoughts or an agenda. Try to reach compromise
• Tone of Voice
o Keep your tone of voice neutral, starting a conversation off with an aggressive stance or message may in turn lead to a similar response from the person you are communicating with
• Ask Questions
o Use open-ended questions and don’t rush. Give the person you are talking with an opportunity to process what you have said and to formulate their answer. Try not to rush responses
(Hinkle, Fettig, Carlos, & Bosslet 2017)
There are times when a staff member or the charge nurse may speak to you or the team in an unprofessional way. Avoid responding in an unprofessional manner, instead, ask to move to a private area, away from staff and patients to continue the conversation. You can start the conversation by stating that you have been assigned to this unit to provide patient care and if there is something that you have done incorrectly, you would appreciate a professional conversation to discuss the issue. If the conversation continues down the wrong path, you can ask to speak to the supervisor or manager. Before this meeting be certain you keep these additional tips in mind.
• Know your audience before entering into a discussion.
o Speak to leadership in a professional respectful manner
• Know your goal
o What is it you want to achieve from this conversation? Stay focused on the immediate issue
o Listen to understand the message not to formulate a response
• Leave emotions out of the conversation
o Remain objective. Practice emotional intelligence
• Be truthful and sincere
o Stick to the facts of the issue. Be honest with yourself and your leader. Creating a bigger story to benefit yourself contributes to the drama the issue is causing. Don’t make it worse.
Be mindful when meeting with a nurse manager to discuss issues on the unit or with staff. She may interpret this as a reflection of her leadership, so always start out with a positive statement such as: “I want to take this opportunity to thank you for giving me the opportunity to work on your unit. I was wondering if you can help me by giving me some pointers on dealing with Jane Doe”?
Speak softly and slowly and make eye contact. Show you are sincere and trying to do your best for their unit. Be honest and not defensive. Remember you are looking for guidance, and resolution will put you back in a comfort zone. Do not hold grudges, you are there to care for the patients and being part of the team will make this a more pleasant experience for all.
As a past nursing director of 2 units, I have had the opportunity to work with 40 travelers contracted on my units, and my one on one meetings were very important to me. I was grateful for the feedback as well as having opportunities to improve my unit culture and travel nurse experience.
Professional communication is an essential part of the role of registered nurses and other healthcare staff. Communicating with patients and staff in a manner that shows your respect for them provides greater opportunity to arrive at successful outcomes. Remember, it is not what you say, but how you say it that provides confirmation of your commitment to successful communication.
Hinkle, L. J., Fettig, L. P., Carlos, W. G., & Bosslet, G. (2017). Twelve tips for just in time teaching of communication skills for difficult conversations in the clinical setting. Medical Teacher, 39(9), 920–925
Patterson, Grenny, McMillan, and Switzler (2012). Crucial Conversations (2nd ed.). New York: McGraw Hill.
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