Common Sense Communications Skills: Beyond Bedside Manner
Nurses are some of the hardest working professionals in the world, and often driven beyond what most people can imagine when emergency rooms are overflowing, when doctors are not readily available, when the pressure is on to provide care and at the same time meet productivity metrics.
Mastering communications while under duress is no easy task, and by practicing awareness and understanding stress, nurses can learn to govern what they are saying, how they are saying it, and in front of whom they are sharing.
Recently, I heard a story about an otherwise awesome nurse who was unsure about a particular procedure, treating a wound in the ER. In her rush and frustration, she said to another nurse – in front of the patient – she had no experience with the procedure, then walked out of the examination room.
Naturally this did not build confidence or trust with the patient, and left the other nurse to reassure while pivoting to another professional for help.
Instead of speaking in front of patients, simply walk out of the room and find a quiet place to discuss the challenge or frustration, then resolve it together, then reconnect with the patient.
Beyond nurse-patient communications, nurses also benefit from practicing communications skills with their colleagues – other nurses, doctors, staff, administration, specialists and more. Remaining calm while others around may be feeling the chaos is a gift we can all learn. “Take a deep breath” is simply good advice in situations where rational thinking can help organize the right next steps.
Another exercise I’ve always found helpful is empathy – “walk a mile in their moccasins.” Imagine how the person you are about to communicate will feel about what you are going to say, then craft your message and tone to make the conversation as pleasant, productive and effective as possible. Think in advance about what their questions will be, so you are prepared to answer them. And if you cannot answer a question, never be afraid to say, “I need to think about that” or “I’d like to consult with a colleague” on that rather than guessing or ignoring the tough question.
Finally, make sure to get some rest during stressful times. Very often a five minute walk in the fresh air will help unwind your mind and open your heart. You’ll always feel better about communicating in kind and professional ways, and ultimately you’ll be the beneficiary of your own better bedside manner.
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