nursing colleagues talking in hallway

4 Powerful Ways to Improve Nursing Communication Among Nursing Colleagues

Finding ways to improve nursing communication is a matter of life and death. How well you communicate with your nursing colleagues has a direct correlation with both patient safety and your overall quality of life and job satisfaction. Poor healthcare team communication can lead to medical errors, severe injury or patient death.

Authors Michelle O'Daniel and Alan H. Rosenstein cite the Joint Commission's statement that if medical errors appeared on the National Center for Health Statistic's list of the top 10 causes of death in the United States, they'd rank No. 5. This puts deaths caused by medical errors ahead of:

  • Accidents
  • Diabetes
  • Alzheimer's disease
  • AIDS
  • Breast cancer
  • Gunshot wounds

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The negative effects of poor workplace communication for nurses include increased stress, lower morale, job dissatisfaction and high turnover rates. Good communication among nursing colleagues promotes collaboration, encourages teamwork and helps prevent errors. O'Daniel and Rosenstein, authors of Patient Safety and Quality: An Evidence-Based Handbook for Nurses, add that a review of the literature shows that effective communication can lead to the following:

  • Better information flow
  • More effective interventions
  • Enhanced safety
  • Improved employee morale and job satisfaction
  • Increased patient and family satisfaction
  • Decreased lengths of stay

Four Ways to Improve Nursing Communication

1. Get to know your internal personal variables that affect how you communicate

Kathleen A. Vertino, DNP, PMHNP-BC, CARN-AP, published a comprehensive article in the Online Journal of Issues in Nursing on the complex topic of effective interpersonal communication for nurses. She provides a detailed analysis of some of the most common causes contributing to ineffective communication that come from a person's internal predisposing factors, which are "thoughts, feelings and perceptions that are often learned early in life and shaped by childhood upbringing and experiences."

Vertino also lays out the possible consequences of an individual bringing this internal variable into a workplace situation, along with strategies to improve nursing communication in such situations. Examples include:

  • Your family had a "no talk" taboo about discussing anything unpleasant or difficult. You become aware of a patient safety issue and are struggling with an ethical dilemma. An effective way to broach the subject might be, "I am not really comfortable bringing this up, but I feel we need to address it."
  • You are uncomfortable with conflict and disagreement in the workplace. A de-escalating response to a colleague's agitation could be, "I can see that you are upset. I would like to discuss this calmly and rationally."
  • Unresolved emotional issues related to past abuse incline you to misinterpret the motives or messages of others. You might seek to resolve a conflict by saying, "I think there has been a misunderstanding here; I would like to discuss/clarify/clear this up."

2. Use a helpful acronym to streamline your thoughts and get to the point quickly

Mary Sweeney, RN, BSN, CEN, ONN-CG, medical consultant at Mom Loves Best, recommends nurses communicate with colleagues in a direct, concise way. "Use the acronym SBAR when talking about a situation that needs to be addressed immediately — Situation, Background, Assessment, Recommendation. By using this order, you are clearly stating what is happening, what led to the event, what you think is happening and what you think should be done. This method is helpful in communicating with doctors, nurse managers and any teammates in an emergency situation."

3. Try to handle interpersonal conflicts one on one

If a matter between you and a nursing colleague has escalated, registered nurse and medical consultant Sweeney suggests you try to resolve the conflict at the lowest level possible by approaching your coworker directly. 

"Nurses may have superpowers, but they aren't mind readers. If you have an issue with a colleague, talk with them privately first before bringing it to your supervisor. They may not be aware of your issue, and your supervisor will appreciate you making the effort to resolve the problem before involving them."

4. Bring respect into every interaction

"Effective teams are characterized by trust, respect and collaboration," states chapter 33 of O'Daniel and Rosenstein's handbook for nurses. Dr. Crystal Slaughter, DNP, APRN, faculty member for Walden University's Bachelor of Science in Nursing (RN-BSN) program, concurs. "It's simple — nurses need to talk to each other! If we are human beings first and nurses second, then basic communication skills, such as mutual respect and listening, will come into play."

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