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Why Communication Skills Are Critical in Nursing

Nurses need a range of skills to be successful. While the so-called “hard skills” of nursing, like evidence-based practice and tech-savviness, are critical for patient safety and progress, nurses cannot do their jobs well without a foundation in communication. So-called “soft skills,” like communication, are in high demand by employers, and nurses can deepen their proficiency in this vital area through practice. However, they can also gain communication skills through a Registered Nurse (RN) to Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) program.

Why Does Nursing Communication Matter?

A nurse’s communication skills impact virtually every point of the care cycle, from the quality of patient care to professional relationships with colleagues and the community at large. As frontline workers, nurses are often the first to engage with patients and their families. Their communication strategies can create a welcoming environment where patients feel respected and express their concerns fully.

Using open communication, nurses educate patients and break down complex topics, such as treatment plans, into simpler terms. According to a September 2021 BMC Nursing study, effective communication between nurses and patients can improve safety and patient engagement, satisfaction and adherence to medication and treatment plans — all metrics that can yield higher CAHPS scores and greater success for the organization.

Meaningful patient engagements offer an opportunity to calm patients’ fears and facilitate genuine person-centered care that addresses social determinants of health, reduces readmissions and optimizes outcomes.

Collaborative relationships are integral to nursing, so nurses must build rapport with colleagues and other healthcare professionals to provide the highest level of patient care. In addition, they must convey information efficiently, especially under extreme stress and regardless of the format, whether face-to-face, via phone or increasingly through digital platforms.

Accurate chart documentation is another form of nursing communication that impacts the quality and continuity of care. When clear, consistent written communication is lacking, nurses and organizations may experience substantial legal and financial ramifications.

5 Best Practices for Communication in Nursing

Nurses skilled at communication follow these five best practices:

  1. Break the tension. The top nurse communicators know how to put patients at ease in any circumstance. They care about patients’ preferences and find common ground, like a shared favorite TV show, to make an initial connection.
  2. Look beyond words. Communication involves more than just the spoken or written word. It encompasses tone and voice inflection, punctuation and formatting, and nonverbal cues like body language. Skilled communicators take note of clues displayed by others and are mindful of what their own communication habits convey.
  3. Be an active listener. Interpersonal communication is a two-way street, which means nurses must not only express themselves clearly but also seek to understand the other person. Nurses should remain attentive while someone is speaking, make eye contact and repeat back key points to verify understanding. With active listening, miscommunications are less likely.
  4. Silence is golden, too. Some people take longer to coordinate their thoughts and express their feelings. Good communicators see the value in creating time and space for others to reflect, form questions and process information in silence.
  5. Commit to the teach-back. Teach-backs are a patient education strategy nurses can use to ensure patient understanding. For example, nurses may ask patients to explain home care instructions or the treatment plan in their own words. Nurses can then offer further feedback so patients have the information necessary to achieve compliance.

Some people are born communicators, while others may pick up valuable techniques through on-the-job experience, but most people need to practice and refine their communication skills.

Through carefully curated coursework and experiential learning, Northwest Missouri State University’s online RN to BSN program offers a deeper dive into this in-demand skillset, leading to graduates who excel in professional communication and interdisciplinary collaboration. With these skills, nurses can provide quality care that deepens engagement and improves patient outcomes and organizational success.

Learn more about Northwest’s online RN to BSN program.

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