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How to be a more effective communicator


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As nurses we all learn about therapeutic communication. I’m not here to review that. But, does being a therapeutic communicator make you an effective communicator?

I found out this week that it does not. Taking that initial history can be challenging to say the least.

You can listen with the most empathetic ear, but if you cannot effectively communicate AND therapeutically communicate, the conversation you have with your patient will be short and ineffective.

Here are some key concepts that may look vaguely familiar to those who know therapeutic communication skills:

Level the playing field

We all know to always maintain direct eye contact, but also make it a point to maintain the patients eye level. Meaning, unless you can’t prevent it, don’t interview your patient standing over them. Everyone remembers how to communicate with pediatric patients, right? Well, it equally applies to adults. Be on their level – literally and physically!

Two ears & one mouth

This means you should listen twice as much as you talk. The best communicators are the greatest listeners.

Wide open spaces

I would hope you are within close proximity of your patient. Trying to elicit a meaningful dialogue from across the room is not very effective. Although there can be such a thing as ‘too close’ and invading personal space. Please respect someone’s wishes and be culturally sensitive to their needs and wants, regardless of how you feel about them.

The Doppler effect

Be very aware of the tone of your voice. While we always want to use our ‘inside’ voice, I think we can all admit to raising our voice to speak above the ambient sound of the hustle & bustle of the nursing unit. I honestly would suggest starting with a whispered voice. I haven’t met anyone who gets offended by a whisper, but many will be offended by a boisterous megaphone-like shriek.

Be a N.U.R.S.E.

(Sorry, I learned this new acronym and had to share)

N – notice

  • Listen, listen, and then listen some more

U – understand

  • Developing a plan of care

R – respond (& reflect)

  • Clarify yours and their understanding

S – sympathize

  • Validate how they are feeling

E – empathize

  • Be objectively aware and non-judgmental

A lot of these suggestions are not new. In fact I think all nurses possess these skills, or they learn them as they travel through their career. It never hurts to remind ourselves.

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