nurse and doctor discussing file in hospital hallway
Profiles and Features Updated September 13, 2022

By Melissa Mills, RN, BSN, CCM, MHA

10 Essential Nurse Communication Skills

Communication in nursing is one of the most important components of the job, as it can have a direct effect on patient safety and outcomes. Nurse communication skills can also encourage collaboration with colleagues and have a direct bearing on your career success. 

But isn’t communication just a “soft skill”? Perhaps so, but the American Association of Critical-Care Nurses asserts that “nurses must be as proficient in communication skills as they are in clinical skills.” They go on to say that skilled communication can save lives, and have a profound effect on individuals and organizations.

Nurses are in constant communication with patients and their families, from initial introductions that can put people at ease, to getting feedback on a patient’s condition, to giving vital take-home instructions. Nurses also need to communicate with all members of the medical team, both in person and through various reports. All written nurse communication may be reviewed for accuracy, safety, and even legal issues.

Thus, it is extremely important for nurses to have strong communication skills, and be vigilant about using best practices throughout every shift. The following list highlights some of the most important communication skills in nursing that can help you ensure a successful career.            

The Top 10 Communication Skills in Nursing

1. Nonverbal Communication           

You can communicate a powerful message without saying a word, be it positive or negative. For instance, folding your arms might indicate to colleagues or patients that you are closed off and unwilling to listen. Shaking your head or rolling your eyes can also have an extremely negative effect, even if done subconsciously.

So, be more aware, and be proactive about practicing good nonverbal nurse communication skills. These include making eye contact and controlling the tone of your voice. Appropriate body language, posture, and a simple smile can also go a long way.

Want an easy-to-implement communication strategy? One 2017 study found that nurses who sat more during patient interactions increased trust levels and resulted in a four-fold increase in patient satisfaction scores.                                                                         

2. Active Listening

Listen to understand, not solely to respond—this is one of the best principles for active listening. 

An Australian College of Nursing paper defines active listening as simply “actively listening” to what is being said, which may involve all of your senses. Also called “attentive listening,” it involves five key elements: (1) paying attention (without interrupting); (2) using body language that shows that you are listening; (3) giving feedback; (4) summarizing; and (5) deferring judgment and responding appropriately.

3. Personal Relationships

Even when shifts get busy, it’s important to remember that patients are not just a “case” that you have to handle. Each person deserves your respect and attention. Nurses can show care, compassion, and kindness while obtaining and providing information to patients. 

You must be able to demonstrate a level of interest in the collaborative relationship. This will help the patient feel accepted and build their trust in you.

4. Inspire Trust

For the 20th straight year, nurses led Gallup's annual ranking of professions for having high honesty and ethics, eclipsing medical doctors in second place by 14 points – 81 percent vs. 67 percent.

How can you maintain that trust? Always keep your word. Never make promises you may not be able to keep. When you are with a patient, be present. Listen to your patients, take their complaints or concerns seriously, and remember your role as patient advocate.

5. Show Compassion

Treat patients with respect and dignity. Remember that being in the hospital can be scary—for both children and adults. Patients may feel depressed, helpless and/or anxious. Plus many are in pain. Put yourself in the shoes of your patient. Doing so will help you convey empathy while using your nurse communication skills.

Some of the ways you can communicate compassion are by getting to know your patients better to understand their needs, by providing emotional support during difficult times, and by showing an interest in them and their situation.

6. Cultural Awareness

Every patient is unique. They may come from different countries, cultures or religions. 

Common practices and gestures are not accepted by all cultures. Consider your attitudes and actions, and strive to be culturally sensitive every time you communicate with a patient. Language can also be a barrier, so get familiar with translation resources at your hospital or other facility.

7. Educating Patients

This nurse communication skill is at the heart of nursing, and one of your key responsibilities. You must be able to explain disease processes, medications, treatments and self-care techniques to patients and their families. 

Education should be collaborative, and targeted to the patient’s level of understanding. Break down medical jargon into simple terms. Ask patients questions and use teach-back techniques when possible.

8. Written Communication

Writing skills are still essential for nurse-to-nurse communication, nurse-to-physician communication, and in patient communications. From text messages to patient charts to clinical study analyses, always ensure your written communication is concise, accurate and easy to understand. 

Write in complete sentences that are grammatically correct. Only use approved abbreviations and terminology that is universal. Finally, if you aren’t entirely sure about someone else’s written communication, be sure to clarify the details before acting on it.

9. Presentation Skills

Nurses in leadership positions are not the only ones who need this communication skill. You may be asked to present information to nurses or other staff members on a small or large scale. 

Plan your message. Create pleasing visual aids that add value to the presentation. Know your audience, understand what they want from your presentation, and practice what you want to say in the allotted time frame. When you get ready to present, take a deep breath, speak clearly and remember to smile.

10. Verbal Communication

Verbal nurse communication skills are of the utmost importance, and poor communication can have dire consequences. One situation where this has become apparent is during patient handoffs between caregivers. The Joint Commission notes that inadequate hand-off communication is a contributing factor to adverse events including wrong-site surgery, delay in treatment, falls, and medication errors.

To ensure effective verbal communication, consider your audience and the situation. For instance, communicating with pediatric patients in a clinical setting will take a different approach than communicating with your ER colleagues in assessing and treating a trauma patient.

Speak in clear, complete sentences whenever possible, and consider your tone when speaking. Be alert to appropriate timing and try to avoid distractions. Be sure to provide the information the other person will need to answer your question or respond appropriately.

Becoming an Expert at Nurse Communication

Nurse communication skills are indispensable to your success as a nurse, and with continued practice in these key areas, you can become a nurse communication expert.

Looking for new opportunities to use your skills? NurseChoice is seeking talented nurses for short-term travel nursing assignments across the country. Just complete our quick application to connect with a recruiter.

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