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Nurses are trained talkers. We use our words to express SBAR, to educate our patients, to report off to other nurses, etc. We also speak up to advocate for our patients—always! Yet I am noticing there are times we need to just shut up.

For example, I’m a night nurse and am noticing how valuable increasing silence is on the floor. Yes, even around the nurse’s station–patients need to sleep! More and more I am aware of how loud my coworkers and I can be at 3AM, and I am working on toning it down—or moving it away from patient rooms. Also, pulling patient doors shuts can do wonders. Hey, are YOU brave enough to shush your coworkers when they wake up patients? I’m working on it!

And then there are the times when we communicate with our patients without speaking—like by holding a patient’s hand or rubbing their back. Ok, I’m one of those nurses who is all touchy-feely in a professional way, of course! In labor and delivery, I am all about letting my hands do the speaking and providing comfort measures through massage and counter pressure—I just have to make the time to do so!

Here’s a hard one: I also tend to keep quiet when my opinion doesn’t matter. No, I don’t agree with everything my co-workers say and do, but often times I don’t actually need to voice my own opinion. Unless my opinion stops harm, I have found it’s easier to keep peace on the floor if I keep my peace, in many cases. IMHO the nurse’s station is not the place for a political debate or a place for me to gossip about my coworkers in order to feel better about myself. So, I try to keep these lips sealed.

Grief also breeds words that can be nonproductive. Patients and families who experience death need to talk, to emote, to rant, to cry, and to be silent themselves. And many times I need to just be present and still after simply saying, “I’m sorry.” As a nurse, I am the physical presence of peace—who should have no pat answers or trite sayings to offer. Instead, I am a shoulder to cry on. I am understanding. I am most present at those times when my words don’t get in the way of what I am ultimately communicating: comfort.

Yes, we as nurses should speak up, advocate, edify, enjoy each other, and communicate well with everyone we encounter. And sometimes silence actually says more than our words and can in turn be an effective nursing tool.

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