The ability to listen closely and articulate ideas effectively
What is it?
Effective communication occurs when one person transmits a message that is accurately understood by those who are listening. To understand what another person is saying is the heart of meaningful dialogue. Once one person understands the message, he or she can respond appropriately. The focus here is on the communication between nurses and physicians and between nurses and patients.
Why is it important?
Communication is the lifeblood of individualized care. Without good communication, it becomes difficult to know what a patient needs, wants, or is feeling. Furthermore, patient care is often a team effort, and medical personnel need to be in constant, coordinated communication. What happens when an attending nurse doesn’t communicate clear expectations and then is upset when an intern doesn’t deliver proper care to the patient? Everyone is frustrated and, worse yet, the task was not completed correctly. Effective communication at the individual and team level is a prerequisite for effective medical practice.
- Improve your Active Listening
First, focus on becoming a better listener. It is essential that nurses understand what their patients are trying to say. Two excellent techniques that improve our active listening ability are probing questions and paraphrasing. Probing questions are open-ended questions that help us understand what another person is saying. We can ask a patient, “Tell me more about the activities you participated in leading up to the chest pain?” or “What do you mean when you say the pain occurs frequently?” Another skill is to paraphrase what we think we’ve heard. “So, you think we should take an x-ray to confirm the preliminary findings? Am I hearing you correctly?” Once you’ve arrived at an accurate understanding, you can respond appropriately.
- Support Your Assertions
Second, when presenting your observations or conclusions to physicians and patients, be prepared to back them up with data, examples or anecdotes. Have hard data or compelling evidence that supports your position, and articulate the support as you speak with your patient or co-worker. This is essential in addressing physicians who may take a different approach than you and therefore need additional support for your ideas. This is also a necessary skill for communication with patients, as they may question the effectiveness of your choices and need to develop a deeper understanding.
- Adapt Your Style
Finally, be attentive to and strive to understand your audience. Presenting to your team likely needs a different communication style than sharing ideas and information with your patients. We must adapt our content, tone and style based upon what is most appropriate for our audience. For example, the jargon used in the operating room with your peers is not appropriate for the patients and their families; lay language and a different tone may be more applicable.