20+ Nursing Communication Techniques, Tips, and Trends

by | Jul 4, 2024 | New Grad Nurse, New Nurse | 0 comments

Effective communication is the cornerstone of excellent nursing care. It allows nurses to collaborate effectively with patients, families, doctors, and other healthcare professionals. However, when you’re new to the hospital, it can feel quite intimidating to communicate confidently with everyone around you. This article explores various nursing communication techniques you can utilize to ensure clear and compassionate interactions in all aspects of your practice.

You will learn how to talk like a nurse, how to talk to doctors, and many more tips for communicating with patients, colleagues, and superiors, empowering you to build strong relationships and deliver exceptional nursing care.

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Nursing Communication Techniques – Your Nursing Team

I discussed this topic on my podcast! If you’d like to listen to my nursing communication tips on talking to fellow nurses, click play below. 👇

Communicating with your fellow nurses and nursing assistants isn’t a one-time occurrence. It takes time to build trust, rapport, and bonds with the people you work alongside each day.

How to Build Strong Communication Tendencies

Here are some basic things you can do during each shift to establish a reputation as a reliable colleague.

  • Touch Base Daily: Briefly connect with your colleagues at the start of your shift, especially those you’ll be working closely with throughout the day.
    • Give a heads-up on patients you’re concerned about or ones with special considerations.
    • Ask if they have any patients you need to be aware of.
  • Regular Check-Ins: Throughout the shift, see how they’re doing. Often, if you see how they’re doing when you’ve got your head above water, they will return the favor.
    • Idea 💡 Use a color system (red/yellow/green) throughout the day to gauge your colleagues’ workload and offer help if needed. We often have trouble verbalizing what we need help with when there’s so much to do, so this can really help make communication more manageable.
      • What color are you right now? What can I do to help you get to green?
  • Non-Verbal Communication: Notice body language that might indicate a teammate is struggling (quiet, overwhelmed).
    • Sample talking points
      • “Hey I noticed you’re kind of keeping to yourself today – you doing ok?”
      • “Hey it looks like you’re running around like crazy, is there any way I can help you?”
    • Important note ➡️ Just notice, but do not surveil them. As professionals, we need to ask for help and not expect our colleagues to instinctively detect that we’re struggling.
  • Following Up: Check back with colleagues struggling earlier to see if they’re doing better.

Now that we’ve covered what to do on a regular basis to be successful with nursing communication let’s discuss times when an error is identified, or correction is needed.

Addressing Nursing Communication Challenges

Even with outstanding communication, people make mistakes. We are human, and mistakes are baked into the experience of being a nurse. What matters more than the mistake itself is how we respond to it.

  • Professionalism is Paramount: When correcting errors, focus on the patient’s well-being (communicating that it is not personal) and offer clear, educational solutions.
    • Not: “Hey, you documented range of motion for a paralyzed patient! What are you thinking?!”
    • Rather: “Hey, so I noticed you documented that this patient performed active range of motion every two hours today. He is paralyzed, so he’s not capable of doing that. I know documenting is a really important aspect of the job, but make sure you’re only documenting what you or the patient has actually done. Otherwise, it creates a false record. If something bad happens, it’s pretty clear that it’s inaccurate and calls into question the legitimacy of all of your documentation. Just something to keep in mind going forward! You’ll want to go back and fix it where you charted that earlier.”
  • Reflect Insubordination: If someone is refusing to complete a delegated task, rephrase their words to highlight the potential consequences and encourage responsible action.
    • “I just want to make sure I understand what is happening right now. A patient needs to go to the restroom. You are the only person available to take this patient, however, you are refusing to do so. Is that correct?”
    • Tone is key. Keep it curious and not condemning.

Working together on a team can get messy, but remember, it’s not personal. While these are your colleagues, they are not your family or best friends. At the end of the day, the most important thing is providing appropriate care to your patients, and sometimes that means you’ll have to have some uncomfortable conversations – and that’s 100% normal!

Understanding the Personalities of Your Team

Here are some tips to get along better with your team and to effectively leverage your team’s skills according to their personalities.

  • Learn Your Team: Recognize that while some individuals are natural go-getters, others may require motivation to surpass expectations. Adapt your expectations accordingly by understanding this distinction.
  • Seek Positive Support: Identify positive and encouraging colleagues for support. Don’t go to the nurse who catastrophizes things.

Maintaining Positivity while Working

Having a positive attitude at work is beneficial for your team and your mental health.

  • Express Gratitude: Thank your team members for their contributions.
  • Ditch the Gossip: Avoid negativity and gossip within the team. Instead, use humor to deflect inappropriate situations.

How to Tell Your CNA to Do Something

When delegating tasks to your CNA, follow these recommendations:

  • Be Direct: When delegating tasks, clearly explain what needs to be done and the desired outcome. Use simple language and avoid medical jargon that your CNA might not understand.
  • Provide Specific Instructions: Don’t just say “Help with Mr. Jones.” Specify the task, like “Can you please help Mr. Jones get dressed for breakfast?”
  • Offer Support: Let your CNA know you’re available to answer questions or provide assistance if needed.
  • Offer Praise and Encouragement: Thank your CNA for their hard work and positive contributions to patient care.
  • Welcome Feedback: Encourage your CNAs to share their observations and suggestions about patient care.

Nursing Communication Techniques – Other Members of the Healthcare Team

I discussed this topic on my podcast! If you’d like to listen to my nursing communication tips on talking to other members of the healthcare team, click play below. 👇

Every hospital has its own unique culture and communication style. Be patient with yourself as you learn the ropes.

Here, we’ll explore various communication strategies and approaches that are essential for effective interaction with other members of the healthcare team.

Tailoring Your Communication

Clear and efficient communication is vital in ensuring coordinated care and promoting positive patient outcomes.

  • Different team members require different information during updates. Learn what kind of “report” each specialist (PT/OT, Speech Therapy, Case Manager, Social Worker, Chaplain, Doctor/Provider) actually needs. If you’re unsure, don’t hesitate to ask for clarification.

Respectful Communication

This is the key to promoting a nice work environment.

  • Project Humble Confidence: Be direct but kind in your interactions.
  • Focus on Patient Names: Avoid using room numbers – many specialists see patients in various rooms, so using names fosters better continuity.

Collaboration, not Delegation

Not taking advantage of others is important as a team player; focus on collaboration.

  • Don’t Expect Others to Do Your Job: It’s not cool to call therapists and say: “Bed 14’s food tray is here for you to feed him breakfast”.
  • Promote Collaboration: Offer information and work together for optimal care. For example, “Just wanted to let you know that 14’s tray arrived. Before I bring it to him, I wanted to see if you’ll be seeing him today and if it would be helpful to wait so you could work with him at the beginning when he’s got the most energy”.

Active Listening and Clarification

Be sure to understand correctly what is asked of you.

  • Reflect Back Information: Repeat what you understand from another team member to ensure you’re on the same page.
    • “Ok, so let me make sure I’m understanding you. You’d like me to ________. Is that correct?”
  • Ask Questions if Unsure: Don’t be afraid to ask for clarification if something is confusing.

Respectful Disagreements

If you disagree with a request, explain your concerns and justify:

  • “Ok, so I hear that you really want to get him discharged right now. I’m concerned that we’re going to just see him back again in less than a month. He does not have anyone at home to help him, no one to pick him up, etc…”

Knowing Your Chain of Command

Be aware of the hierarchy in your workplace in case you encounter an issue.

Expressing Gratitude

Always appreciate your colleagues and their contributions to patient care.

Nursing Communication Techniques – Patients and Their Support System

I discussed this topic on my podcast! If you’d like to listen to my nursing communication tips on talking to patients and their support systems, click play below. 👇

Here, you’ll find invaluable insights on how to talk to patients as a nurse.

Nurse Tips on Talking to Patients

Talking to patients is a daily task, some are easier to talk to than others, so here are some tips to succeed.

  • Predictability is Key: Patients feel less anxious when they know what to expect. Develop routines and inform them about upcoming procedures or visitors. Consider using whiteboards to visually schedule activities.
  • Building Trust and Rapport:
    • Start Strong: Introduce yourself and explain your plan of care in clear terms.
    • Project Confidence: Patients want to feel secure in their care.
    • Explain the Care Provided: Explain what you are doing and why you are doing it. Transparency fosters trust and collaboration. Patients also feel included in their care.
  • Ask Questions: People want to be known and valued. Develop a sense of curiosity and ask your patients what they do for a living, their hobbies, etc. This helps patients know that you genuinely care for them as a person and are not just going through the motions of nursing. Asking questions is a part of the “Art” of nursing you hear so much about.

Nurse Tips on Talking to Patient Family Members

Here we’ll delve into essential communication techniques for nurses when engaging with patients’ families, fostering understanding, empathy, and effective collaboration in healthcare decision-making.

  • Respect Family Dynamics: Ask who is accompanying the patient and avoid assuming family roles.
    • “So who is this you’ve got with you today?” or if the patient is nonverbal, “So can you tell me your relation to ____?”
  • Request Privacy Professionally: Use a business-like tone when requesting privacy for examinations or procedures.
    • “We’re going to get ______ all bathed and cleaned up for the day. It would be a great time to take a break and grab some coffee or something from the cafeteria!”
  • Follow Through: Demonstrate reliability by keeping your promises, even if it’s something small.
  • Team Mentality: Dispel the “us vs. them” feeling and work together with families for the best patient outcomes.
  • Address Conflict with Curiosity: If a family member seems angry, approach the situation with curiosity instead of avoidance. Listen to their concerns
    • “You seem frustrated. Can you tell me what’s up?”

Holding Space for Difficult Experiences

When patients or families face a health crisis, it can be overwhelming. Here’s how to create a supportive space and validate their emotions.

  • Acknowledge Trauma: Be understanding if patients or families have experienced traumatic events leading to hospitalization.
  • Validate their Experiences: Let them know their feelings are valid and offer support.
    • You might also encounter patients or loved ones who have experienced a close call and inquire about what to do during a cardiac emergency at home. This comprehensive article provides guidance for various emergencies and includes my insights, particularly in the discussion on cardiac arrest!

Nursing Communication Techniques – Difficult Conversations

I discussed this topic on my podcast! If you’d like to listen to my nursing communication tips on difficult conversations, click play below. 👇

Nurses – How to Give Bad News

Communicating bad news is an inevitable part of healthcare, and as frontline caregivers, nurses play a pivotal role in this process. We’ll explore effective strategies, compassionate communication techniques, and supportive approaches that will empower you to navigate these challenging conversations with empathy, clarity, and professionalism.

Understanding Difficult Conversations

Difficult conversations involve delivering difficult news, such as a terminal diagnosis, medical errors, or a loved one’s passing. These situations can be shocking and overwhelming for patients and families.

Responding with Empathy

Imagine yourself experiencing a similar life-altering event. This can help you understand the shock and emotional response you might encounter, making you more sympathetic to the patient and their family.

  • It makes sense that the patient and/or family may not be the best communicators, remember things correctly, need things re-explained, make weird decisions, or ask odd questions.

Supporting Patients and Families

Let’s explore strategies and resources for effectively supporting patients and their families through challenging times.

  • Bring in Support: Chaplains are invaluable resources trained to provide emotional and spiritual support during difficult times. They can offer a listening ear and help families process information and make decisions. Social workers can also be trained as counselors and can be an added resource for a patient to talk through difficult issues.
  • Anticipate Questions and Prepare: Be ready to answer common questions and explain information clearly and concisely.
  • Maintain Emotional Composure: Don’t take their emotional responses personally. Remain calm and professional while offering support.
  • Be Direct and Honest: Avoid sugarcoating the truth or offering false hope.
  • Validate their Feelings: Acknowledge their emotions and practice reflective listening to show you understand their situation.

How to Talk to Cancer Patients as a Nurse

Communicating with cancer patients demands a nuanced and empathetic approach from nurses. Recognizing the emotional turmoil and uncertainty that often accompanies a cancer diagnosis, nurses must create a supportive environment with attentive listening where patients feel heard, understood, and empowered.

Establishing trust and rapport is paramount, allowing nurses to navigate discussions about the plan of care, prognosis, and potential challenges with sensitivity and clarity.

Moreover, nurses should adopt a holistic approach, addressing not only the physical aspects of medical care but also the emotional, social, and spiritual dimensions of the patient’s experience.

Nursing Communication Techniques – Your Loved Ones

I discussed this topic on my podcast! If you’d like to listen to my nursing communication tips on talking to your loved ones, click play below. 👇

Understanding Your Work Demands

Nursing is demanding. You need to explain to your loved ones that nursing requires long shifts and an emotional investment. You’ll need time to recover and recharge between shifts.

Managing Expectations

Here is some advice to help you manage expectations after work.

  • Don’t Overload Yourself: Schedule downtime before and after shifts for rest and self-care.
    • Don’t do stuff before or after a shift – laundry and chores, and don’t expect to have the energy to get up before work or stay up late after.
  • Anticipate Occasional Blunders: Promptly apologize and take responsibility for any misunderstandings.
  • Open Communication: Talk to your loved ones about your work and the challenges you face. Help them understand the emotional toll nursing can take.
  • Holidays: Working as a nurse often involves working holidays. While this is great financially, it can cause stress at home. Remind your family of your required holiday work schedule and plan family celebrations and gatherings around your work schedule as much as possible.

Establishing Routines

Create pre- and post-shift routines that support your well-being.

Maintain Boundaries

While open communication is important, avoid letting work overwhelm your personal life.

Effective Communication

  • Discuss Expectations: Talk to your loved ones about how you’ll support each other and communicate your needs.
  • Debriefing: Allow time to debrief after a difficult shift, but avoid dwelling on negativity.

Nursing Communication Techniques – How to Talk to Doctors

New nurses (and even seasoned ones!) can sometimes feel apprehensive about talking to healthcare providers. But remember, clear communication between nurses and physicians is vital for optimal patient care. Here are some tips to help you feel confident and ensure your message is heard:

  • Be Prepared: Gather info, write it down, and use SBAR (Situation, Background, Assessment, Recommendation) for a clear presentation. SBAR is a communication tool used in healthcare settings to improve the flow of information, especially during patient handoffs or critical situations. Here’s a quick breakdown of each element:
    • Situation: Briefly describe the current situation, including the patient’s name and the urgency of the issue.
    • Background: Provide relevant background information about the patient’s medical history, current medications, and recent events.
    • Assessment: Share your professional judgment about the patient’s condition based on your observations and findings.
    • Recommendation: Clearly state your recommendation for the next course of action.
  • Be Clear & Confident: Make eye contact, state patient info, focus on facts, and speak clearly.
  • Don’t be Afraid to Ask Questions: New nurses especially should feel empowered to ask clarifying questions or seek guidance.
  • Present your Concerns, But be Open to Discussion: Frame your concerns as observations and suggestions, encouraging collaboration with the doctor.
  • Focus on Solutions, Not Just Problems: If you have a concern, offer potential solutions or alternative approaches for the doctor to consider.
  • Stay Professional: Be respectful, keep it brief, and document everything.

Technology and the Future of Nurse Communication

Here are a few examples of how technology is impacting communication in nursing:

  • Secure Messaging Apps: These HIPAA-compliant apps allow nurses to securely exchange information with colleagues and physicians in real time, facilitating efficient care coordination.
  • Patient Portals: Patient portals empower patients to access their medical records, schedule appointments, and communicate electronically with their nurses. This can improve patient engagement and satisfaction.
  • Telehealth: Telehealth technology allows nurses to conduct virtual consultations with patients, expanding access to care, especially in remote areas.

More Resources for Communication Tips:

By honing your communication skills, as nurses we can foster trust, navigate challenging situations, and ultimately provide the best possible outcomes for our patients. This article offers a glimpse into some valuable communication techniques and highlighted trends in the field.

Remember, communication is a continuous learning process, you got this! 💪

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.


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