Communication skills

Effective communication is a core skill for nurses and midwives. Your communication skills can help you avoid conflict, support relationships with colleagues, solve problems and create better outcomes and experiences for people you care for.

If you need some help with your communication skills and would like to chat to someone, you can call our confidential support line 24/7 on 1800 667 877.
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The way you are required to communicate at work is underpinned by certain organisational values, which you agree to as part of your employment contract. These values seek to promote positive working environments and respectful communication between staff, the people receiving care and their families.

Poor communication can inhibit the delivery of effective care, frustrate teamwork, and result in low job satisfaction and retention rates.

Communication errors are a major contributing factor in incidents and adverse events. (Australian Commission on Safety and Quality in Health Care, 2016).

Types of communication

There are three types of communication:

  1. Verbal communication – exchanging information using speech. Your choice of words and tone are important.
  2. Non-verbal communication – facial expressions, posture, gestures and movements (can sometimes be misinterpreted).
  3. Visual communication – ideas and information are conveyed in a visual format eg process maps
Communication – what is your style?

No two people will have the exact same style of communicating – we are all very different and express our opinions and needs differently.

There are three main styles of communication – passive, aggressive and assertive. The most effective style of communication is the assertive style (Reach Out, 2017).

Passive communicators are:

  • shy and don’t stand up for themselves
  • overly easy going and rarely say no, and
  • usually overworked and stressed.

You hold your feelings in and can easily become resentful.

Aggressive communicators:

  • disrespect the needs/opinions of others
  • may be identified by others as a bully
  • don’t listen to others’ opinions
  • humiliate or intimidate others when they express themselves
  • use closed and hostile body language, and
  • are not approachable.

They may feel their needs are more important than the needs of others or the team.

Assertive communicators are:

  • empowered
  • respectful of your needs and the needs of others
  • able to communicate their opinion effectively
  • direct and to the point, and
  • approachable.

You maintain boundaries and know what you will and will not do.

Communicating with people in your care and their significant others

Tips for better communication with people in your care:

  • withhold your judgments –be genuine and show empathy
  • tailor your communication to your listener’s needs (such as non-English speaking, cognitive impairment, or culture)
  • think about what you need to say before saying it. Respect privacy and confidentiality, and
  • allow people time to ask questions and air their concerns
Communication within the health care team

Communicating effectively within a multidisciplinary team is not always easy. The key to therapeutic collaborative care is effective communication that leads to trust, understanding of shared responsibility and multidisciplinary decision-making processes (Berman, et al. 2014).

Be assertive while communicating in a multidisciplinary team and:

  • represent the nursing or midwifery perspective. Be aware of projections to devalue your skills or knowledge and set boundaries
  • consider the common goal – person-centred therapeutic care
  • remember you may not know everything about someone else’s discipline – ask questions and be curious
  • show respect for each other’s discipline, and
  • understand your colleague’s role and scope of practice.
Active listening

Active listening involves giving someone your full attention by concentrating on what they are saying and how they are expressing themselves. It is a non-verbal and verbal technique that makes people feel heard and respected.

Watch this YouTube video on active listening:

Humour in communication

Appropriate humour in health care is often described as a complimentary treatment. It has been seen to enhance care relationships, coping and healing while reducing anxiety, lowering blood pressure and releasing endorphins (The Humour Foundations, 2017).

Humour can also be a great way for you to cope and perform in unpleasant and challenging situations (Riley, 2017). For many, humour can help put an experience or expectation into perspective and make it easier to move forward and or manage (Berman, 2014).

Remember to not use negative humour, and to be respectful of other cultures and how humour may be perceived.

What can I do next?

Why not read some of our other articles they may help you, there is a lot of research telling us that poor communication can be an outcome of, or result in stress and anxiety:


Mental health self-care

Stress management

Our service provides free and confidential support 24/7, to nurses, midwives and students Australia wide. If you would like to speak to someone call 1800 667 877, or you can request support via email.

If you would like to know a bit more about the service before getting in contact — take a look through accessing support.

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