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Nurses play a critical role in the delivery of healthcare services. In fact, they spend more time interacting with and treating patients than any other clinician. That is why it is so critical that they develop effective nurse communication skills. Their patients’ health and success depends on it.

Keep reading to find out if you possess the 10 must-have nurse communication skills.

Nurse Communication Skills

1. Practice Active Listening

a clinician practicing nurse communication skillsWhat does it mean to “practice active listening”?

Indeed.com defines active listening as “the ability to focus completely on a speaker, understand their message, comprehend the information and respond thoughtfully.”

In other words, it is listening to understand…not listening to respond.

When talking with your patients or colleagues, make a conscious effort to really understand what the other person is saying. Don’t allow yourself to become distracted by whatever else is going on around you. This includes allowing your mind to wander to unrelated thoughts. Stay in the moment.

As you take the time to actively listen, you’ll find that you build trust and resolve problems more quickly. In the fast-paced world of healthcare, who couldn’t benefit from more of that?

2. Utilize Non-Verbal Communication

In his book, Silent Messages, Albert Mehrabian postulates that 55% of communication is body language, 38% is the tone of voice and 7% is the actual words spoken.

So what do these statistics mean for you?

As a nurse, you send enormously powerful messages without saying a word. Your posture, use of eye contact, the expression on your face, hand gestures, etc. all communicate valuable information.

The next time you interact with a patient or a colleague, ask yourself if your non-verbal communication cues match the intent of your message. If they don’t, what adjustments do you need to make to achieve maximum message efficacy?

More often than not, a tiny adjustment is all that is needed to achieve greater understanding.


Interested in learning more about the different types of non-verbal communication? Check out this informative article from Verywell Mind.


3. Ask Questions

Throughout your career as a nurse, you will need to solicit feedback and input from your patients and colleagues. Doing so will ensure that you provide the best care possible.

Therefore, open-ended questions are the best way to gather the information that you need.

Open-ended questions are “questions that cannot be answered with a simple ‘yes’ or ‘no’, and instead require the respondent to elaborate on their points” (Hotjar).

For example, instead of asking a patient if their pain level has increased, ask them to describe it. The first question encourages a yes/no answer while the second encourages details. These details can then be used to make a better assessment and provide the appropriate treatment.

4. Be Friendly

In 1972, Bill Withers famously crooned “we all need somebody to lean on.” Almost 50 years later, the sentiment still rings true.

Nurses often encounter patients at their lowest points in life. After all, no one seeks out the help of medical professionals when they’re feeling 100%.

For that reason, one of the most effective nurse communication skills is friendliness.

Think about it…

When you feel down and out, a kind and encouraging word from someone who truly cares makes a world of difference.

Nurses are uniquely positioned to offer the hand of friendship to all those in their care. A friendly demeanor can go a long way in improving the patient’s experience and healthcare journey.

5. Be Confident

Have you ever talked with someone who lacked confidence? They stumble over their words and avoid eye contact.

Chances are if you’ve ever encountered this scenario, it was uncomfortable for you too. And you probably doubted what the speaker had to say.

Now apply this to a healthcare setting.

Patients need to know that their healthcare provides speak from a place of authority and certainty, that the information they’re receiving is true and correct.

Nurses can improve their confidence by:

  • Standing up straight (e.g., shoulders back, head up, eyes forward);
  • Preparing for the conversation (aka know the facts);
  • Speaking clearly and audibly;
  • Using the appropriate facial expressions; and
  • Keeping it simple (e.g., avoid technical jargon).

6. Be Clear and Concise

Be honest. How hard do you try to pay attention to a speaker that rambles on?

Chances are you don’t try very hard…and that’s okay.

The human brain craves continual stimulation. In fact, a 2015 study from Microsoft Corporation found that people generally lose concentration after eight seconds (TIME). For the record, that’s one second less than a goldfish.

That is why it is always best to use clear and concise sentences when speaking with your patients and colleagues.

There is a natural pause at the end of each sentence. This pause gives the listener time to consider what was said. In other words, shorter sentences give the listener more time to think and engage.

Furthermore, be sure to stay away from technical healthcare jargon. Instead, use words, analogies and metaphors that are familiar to the listener. Doing so will ensure your message makes a lasting impact.

7. Show Empathy

Empathy is “the ability to share someone else’s feelings or experiences by imagining what it would be like to be in that person’s situation” (Cambridge University Press).

Sympathy, on the other hand, is feeling pity or sorrow for someone else’s misfortune.

While empathy doesn’t require you to have experienced the same situation, it does require you to connect with the emotions that the other person is feeling.

So, how can nurses show empathy?

Brené Brown, research professor at the University of Houston says: “Empathy has no script. There is no right way or wrong way to do it. It’s simply listening, holding space, withholding judgment, emotionally connecting and communicating that incredibly healing message of ‘You’re not alone.’”


“Empathy has no script. There is no right way or wrong way to do it. It’s simply listening, holding space, withholding judgment, emotionally connecting and communicating that incredibly healing message of ‘You’re not alone.’”
~ Brené Brown ~


8. Build Trust

Trust is one of the most important elements in establishing a positive patient-clinician relationship.

For instance, patients need to trust that their healthcare providers have their best interest at heart. They need to believe that their provider is going to give them the correct medication, treatment, advice, etc.

When patients trust their healthcare providers, outcomes improve.

Nurses can increase the trust their patients have by:

  • Showing genuine interest;
  • Acknowledging concerns;
  • Clearly explaining what’s happening;
  • Outlining next steps; and
  • Following up when appropriate.

While having the right skills and education is fundamental to your career as a nurse, being able to inspire trust in your patients will ensure your long-term success in the field.

9. Demonstrate Cultural Awareness

Cultural awareness, also known as cross-cultural sensitivity, is “the knowledge, awareness and acceptance of other cultures and others’ cultural identities.”

As a healthcare provider, you are bound to encounter people from all walks of life. That is why it is important to teach yourself to be sensitive to and accommodate these differences.

For instance, if English is your patient’s second language, take the time to assess how much they understand and adjust your word choices accordingly. If necessary, use a translator.

Additionally, if your patient is trans or nonbinary, be sure to use their preferred name and pronoun.

Most importantly, be willing to learn and adjust as you go. It’s never wrong to make an honest mistake. It’s only wrong if you don’t try to correct it.

10. Be Present

What does it mean to “be present”?

Louise Thompson, life coach, author and newspaper columnist, describes being present as “having my mind completely engaged and appreciatively connecting with wherever my body is at that point, and not trying to be thinking about whatever I want to do next, but be fully in the now of what’s going on in that moment.”

In essence, being present requires you to commit your full attention and energy to what’s in front of you.

As a nurse, you are pulled in a thousand different directions each day. It can be hard to keep your mind focused on the situation at hand.

However, when you commit to being present with your patients and colleagues, your interactions with them will improve.

The next time you find your mind racing over you to-do list, stop, take a breath and remind yourself that the most important task is right in front of you.

Adopting these 10 nurse communication skills is vital to your success in and satisfaction with the nursing profession. Take some time today to decide what skill you can improve upon and practice with your patients and colleagues. We promise you’ll be glad you did!


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Explore additional resources from Premier Medical Staffing Services:

4 Ways Nurses Can Advocate for Patients
7 Ways to Build Patient Rapport
How to Deal with an Angry Patient
How to Rediscover Your Passion for Nursing
Self-Care for Nurses

Last Modified: Aug 6, 2021 @ 10:31 pm by Katy Konkel