We know that communication is the transfer of information between or among people. The practice of nursing utilizes constant communication between the nurse and the patient, the patient’s family, the nurse’s co-workers, supervisors, and many others. Communication in nursing can be a complicated process, and the possibility of sending or receiving incorrect messages frequently exists. It is essential that we know the key components of the communication process, how to improve our skills, and the potential problems that exist with errors in communication.
Successful communication has three major components: a sender, a receiver, and a message. In nursing, we frequently have a great deal of information to send to others in a short period of time. To do this effectively, we need to know that there are factors which could influence how our message is interpreted.
We must consider the setting in which the communication occurs, the past experiences and personal perceptions of both the sender and receiver, the timing of the message, etc.
Breakdown in communication can cause negative outcomes. We all know how important it is to give a thorough patient report to the oncoming nurse at shift change. In situations where this does not occur and important information is not conveyed, treatments, medications, etc. may be missed. For example, in one situation an oncoming nurse was not informed that a patient had fallen on the previous shift. The nurse therefore did not know to assess the patient for injuries or other complications from the fall, or to initiate fall precautions. The patient fell once again and was injured. This possibly could have been prevented had the communication between the nurses been complete.
We know that the trust of our patients and their families is an important part of providing effective nursing care. If they don’t trust us, any communication that we attempt to send to them may be disregarded. We can take steps to ensure that we have their trust. They may seem simple and self-evident; however, in our busy practice they are not always followed. The first step towards effective communication is honesty. Don’t tell a patient that you are going to do something unless you mean it, and if you can’t follow through, explain why. Promises, if made, must be kept. Other important factors are availability and responsiveness. Patients and families become impatient and sometimes angry when they feel that they are being ignored. Sometimes these feelings are not reasonable, but sometimes they are justifiable. If we encounter this type of complaint, we need to take a look at the communication process, timing, etc. between the nurse and the patient. If it appears inadequate, take corrective action.
It has been said that as much as eighty percent of our communication is non-verbal. We need to pay attention to our body language, eye contact, and tone of voice when addressing patients and families. This also is true when addressing co-workers, nursing supervisors, and virtually everyone else. Conflict among co-workers can impact patients, and sometimes can be prevented or corrected if we are aware of how our attitude may be interpreted. Also, cultural awareness can be an important part of the knowledge base that we need to have as nurses when communicating. For example, we may want to pat the arm or hold the hand of a patient or family member, but we need to make sure that this behavior is acceptable and not seen as inappropriate.
Most importantly, we must appear to be empathetic with those in our care. We are the face of nursing and the face of the facility to our patients and their visitors. We will encounter many people in our professional lives. They may not remember our names, but they will remember how we treated them during a difficult time in their lives.