Communication Tips for Nurses – How to Kindly Exit Conversations

by | Dec 31, 2019 | Patient Care | 0 comments

Something that I was not prepared for as a nurse was how many people would want my attention at every second of the day. Patients, families, physicians, advanced practice providers, nurses, housekeeping, receptionists, pharmacists… literally everyone. Combine that with a constantly evolving task-list, dynamic patient conditions, and soon every single second counts. There is a tactful way you can balance your demanding task list while emotionally supporting people with limits. Here are some realistic communication tips for nurses on how to graciously bring a conversation to a close so you can get back to business!

Communication Tips for Nurses - How to Kindly Exit Conversations

I found myself getting into conversations with long-winded individuals with no exit strategy. I always assumed I wouldn’t need one; that I could just provide time to everyone who needed it whenever they needed it.

Oh, how wrong I was.

You must have an exit plan when people start to ramble. Unlike the ideal hospital world the NCLEX prepares us for, there simply is not enough time in the day to have long drawn-out conversations with everyone.

I’ve also learned that not everyone cares or realizes if you have other patients or priorities. I get it, it makes sense wanting to connect with your caregiver – especially if you’re already lonely. Ideally, I’d never want to deny that person time to feel connected and heard. However, that’s not the real world at the bedside. While you’re spending 30 minutes connecting and validating someone, you’re an hour late with a time-sensitive med, a physician is on the phone, have a discharge whose ride has arrived, and your other patient is now suddenly hypotensive.

While I’d love to be able to tell you that you can tell everyone they can wait until you’ve devoted all of the necessary time to someone and support them emotionally – you can’t always. You can’t rely on that patient to realize that you’ve got other incredibly important things to do – so you’ve got to figure out a way to kindly communicate that in a way that shows you still care about them and even though you’ve got to leave the room for a little bit, they are still important to you.

We can’t hope they notice us inching closer and closer to the door for the last 25 minutes. We’ve got to be direct yet kind with how we tactfully navigate these situations.

Let’s go over 7 different communication tips for nurses on how to kindly exit conversations.

Begin with a purpose

When someone says they’d like to speak with you (and you’re 2 hours behind) and you open with, “How are you?” you’re opening a Pandora’s box. People will go into how their day is going, what small thing annoyed them 5 hours ago, what they ate for breakfast, and more.

I’ve found that when I’m behind and am trying to get to the point with people, it is helpful to begin conversations with a direct question like:

“How can I help you?”
“What can I do for you today?”

I know what you may be thinking… “Uhh those are closed-ended conversations, Kati. We were told in school to always use open-ended communication…”

Look, I get that. I get that you want to be able to explore all you can with your patients at every interaction. However, realistically, you simply do not have time to do that. When you know someone takes quite a while to get to the point, help guide them there. Ask a question to elicit a specific point when pressed for time. This is a subtle, yet powerful difference.

Display your Bat-Signal

If you’re getting ready to head into a patient’s room who is particularly chatty or has a family member who goes on and on and doesn’t really know how to close a conversation… get ready to turn on your Bat-Signal.

Before you head into the room to answer their call light, perform an assessment, or whatever, let your nursing staff buds you’re going in. If you’re not back out in 10 minutes, have them call you, come and get you with another need, or some other signal or sign.

Seriously, this works. I’ve done it many times when I’ve gone into a room to do something that should take 3 minutes and 35 minutes later I’m still in there while my patient is slowly listing his 14 different siblings and their children (I’m not making that one up).

Have a quick chat with a colleague before going in and give them a time limit.

Validate and offer

Another great way to bring a conversation to a close is to see if they need anything. Validate what they’ve said with some reflective listening and then see if you can get them something.

“Wow, you and your wife have really had a headache of a day. I can’t believe all of that happened! It sounds really frustrating. I was heading to the nutrition room, can I get you both a cup of coffee or some water?”

This subtly lets them know you were in the middle of something, validates feelings and provides reflective listening, and also provides an opportunity to grab something for them. Win-win!

Just make sure that you genuinely validate and support, don’t rush through this talking point to get to the point.



Be conscientious of their time

As you realize you need to make an exit, make a comment about taking up too much of their time. This may cause them to stop and think about how long the conversation has been.

“Well, I love hearing about your garden at home, but I don’t want to take up too much of your time, I want you working on those leg exercises the physical therapist went over!”

This gently guides someone to think about how long they’ve been chatting and provides a natural close.

Summarize to close

Another great way to create a natural ending to a conversation is to summarize what’s been discussed or bringing it back to the original purpose of the conversation. A lot of people get off on tangents and don’t even remember what they were talking about in the first place.

Relate what they’re currently discussing to the original point to bring it back home and offer some closure to the conversation.

“Yea that sounds like such a tough situation with the family medicine doctor at home. But, thankfully, you did what you should have and went to the emergency department and you’re where you need to be.”

Bring it back home!

I’ll be back (Arnold Schwarzenegger voice)

If you can summarize any requests they’ve made or what you just did for them and provide a time in which you’ll be back, that also brings the conversation to a graceful end. Let them know when you’ll be back, and they’ll know it’s time for you to get going!

“Alright, so you’ve got your call light, your water, and your blanket. I’ll be back in about an hour with some more meds. Is there anything else I can get you right now?”

You’ve quantified what you’ve done, asked a clear question, and told them when you’ll be back!

Bingo – you’re on your way!

Graciously interrupt

The final last option is to simply interrupt. I don’t have to do this much, but it certainly was necessary when I did. I’ve truly had people talk and talk, not even let me get a word in, and the next thing I know…. It’s been 45 minutes and all of my meds are late or another patient desperately needed me.

I just got to the point where if I made them upset or if they thought I was rude, I was fine with that because I was neglecting my patients by staying in the same room for so long.

“I hate to interrupt you right now, but I have got to give some medications to my other patients or they will be late. I’ll be back later, so maybe we can finish this conversation then. Is there anything else I can get you right now?”

Cut them off, let them know, be kind and gracious, and exit. Sometimes you just do what you gotta do.

Learn more about Communication Tips for Nurses

Over the years I’ve developed some communication techniques through both trial and error and making myself look ridiculous. I’d love for you to be able to learn from my mistakes, maximize your time, and communicate your needs effectively as a newbie nurse.

I’ve created a self-guided nurse residency program that is loaded with communication tips for nurses, talking points, and ways to build up your confidence when you feel really intimidated. It’s called the FreshRN® New Nurse Master Class. It’s an online self-paced course that’s over 70 modules and comes with 20.0 continuing education credits. Click here to learn more and get instant access.

New Nurse Master Class


More resources

If you’re looking for more communication tips for nurses, check out these links:

Picture of Kati Kleber, founder of FRESHRN

Hi, I’m Kati.

Kati Kleber, MSN RN is a nurse educator, author, national speaker, host of the FreshRN® Podcast, and owner of FreshRN® – an online platform created to educate, encourage, and motivate newly licensed nurses in innovative ways.

Connect with her on YouTube, Pinterest, TikTok, Instagram, and Facebook, and sign-up for her free email newsletter for new nurses.


Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.