Improving your communication skills as a nurse managerDate: February 24, 2017
The Bradley University online Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) program can open up a number of exciting career opportunities, including that of nurse manager. According to journalist Ellie Williams’ article in the Houston Chronicle, nurse managers oversee teams of nurses, developing their schedules and delegating tasks when necessary.
Furthermore, nurse managers will serve as a liaison between hospital or clinic executives and general nursing staff, relaying information and ensuring that all policies and procedures in terms of patient care are implemented and adhered to. Nurse managers will offer guidance and even discipline if staff members do not meet hospital mandates in terms of performance. In many cases, nurse managers also will be charged with mediating any conflict that arises between nursing staff members, and they also may be required to assist patients with complaints or concerns about their medical care.
Why is effective communication important?
As with managerial roles across all industries, one of the position’s key components is effective interpersonal communication. Without proficient communication skills, nurse managers risk causing confusion, stress or even resentment among nursing staff, with the potential for serious consequences. A study from the Institute of Medicine indicated that patient deaths caused by mistakes are caused primarily by poor communication among medical teams. Consequently, the need for clear and concise communication within nursing teams is by no means a trivial one — nurse managers who are able to communicate well will be more effective at helping their team save lives and avoid potentially fatal mistakes.
Strategies for nurse managers
If you are looking to pursue a career as a nurse manager or already work in the field and want to enhance your communication skills, review the helpful strategies listed below:
- Consider an open door policy
- Be aware of defensive behavior
- Hold regular team meetings and briefings
- Display empathy and understanding
- Maintain positive communication
As a nurse manager, you will be the central point of contact for any queries or concerns that your staff has. In addition to answering general questions while working on the floor, it is important to establish a clear policy that signals to staff that you are available to offer assistance. An effective policy that you can implement is an open door policy. This approach entails letting staff know that your office door always is open should they have any questions or concerns. Alternatively, if your schedule does not allow for an open door policy, consider setting up scheduled office hours instead and publicize this agenda to your staff, whether through email or on the bulletin board. The key here is to communicate to your team that you are available to discuss any problems or issues. If you neglect to make this fact clear, you run the risk of coming across as unapproachable and your team may be afraid to come to you when necessary, which in turn can lead to potentially serious problems.
During any instance of communication, but particularly during conversations that may be difficult or contentious, people run the risk of becoming overly defensive. As Carolyn L. Rosenblatt and Mikol S. Davis wrote in an article appearing in the journal Nursing Management, defensiveness is problematic because more often than not it severely undermines the progress of any conversation. This response is because the defensive parties typically are concerned only with asserting their own positions, neglecting to hear others’ points of view as a consequence. Defensiveness in communication with your nursing team, therefore, should be avoided at all times.
Rosenblatt and Mikol explained that avoiding defensiveness in your interactions with your team members primarily concerns the language that you employ during your conversations. If, for example, you are compelled to reprimand a member of your team, asking the employee questions is an effective way to ensure that you come across as understanding and receptive to hearing his or her point of view. Some questions that exhibit a non-defensive attitude could be “What problems led you to make that decision?” or “Do you understand my point of view?” It is important, however, not to use lines of questioning that may be interpreted as standoffish, thus alienating your speaking partner. A defensive question is anything that can be perceived as negative or assigning blame. For instance, “Is that seriously what happened?” is an example of a question that signifies anger and distrust.
Rosenblatt and Mikol also noted that, in addition to language, defensiveness can be articulated in a non-verbal way through your mannerisms and general demeanor. If you look stern and fail to smile, sit with your arms crossed or raise your voice, it is likely that you will be perceived as defensive. Try to engage in a neutral way, keeping your voice at a normal level, making eye contact and smiling when appropriate.
Although you may not have the time to meet with your team on a daily basis, it likely will be your responsibility to keep your staff informed regularly about any developments, big or small, within your department or the hospital/clinic at large. The most effective way to communicate this news is through regular team meetings and briefings. Even though email is also a useful tool for explaining important developments, in person communication is often more effective, as there is less risk of misinterpretation.
Effective communication often is undermined by a lack of empathy. Empathy is understood, in basic terms, as the ability to understand the thoughts and feelings of another. A lack of empathy in a work setting is, therefore, characterized by behavior where an individual refuses to listen to and cooperate with colleagues and function well within a team. This situation is problematic in any work setting but especially within medical teams where clear communication is key to patient safety. Strategies for overcoming this kind of behavior and improving your empathy skills include making time to get to know each member of your team so that you are more able to effectively gauge why they would do certain things, scheduling routine meetings with all team members wherein they articulate concerns, encouraging teamwork and team bonding, and using positive language whenever possible.
Much like avoiding defensiveness, empathy often is articulated clearly through the language you employ. When discussing problems or concerns with members of your team, be sure to use language that is positive, encouraging and demonstrates that you are truly listening — phrases that begin with “I can see how” are particularly helpful, with a good example being, “I can see how you feel that way.”
Keeping a positive tone and demeanor throughout interactions with your team will help strengthen communication and reduce the risk of hostility and defensiveness. Positive communication can be achieved through general strategies such as smiling, making conversation and using positive language, as well as through more innovative approaches.
For example, Rosenblatt and Mikol suggested using humor during interactions with your staff. When it is appropriate to do so, humor can help your staff feel more relaxed in your presence and more able to relate to you as a person. This result is increased further if you use such opportunities to tell jokes about yourself. Making yourself the focus of a joke indicates that you are down to earth and comfortable, and that you do not perceive yourself as being above or superior to your team — a common complaint that staff, in many settings, often make about their managers.
In addition to humor, offering routine praise to others also can help improve communication and negate any hostility that may be present.
Consider Bradley University
If you are considering a career as a nurse manager, an important first step is applying to Bradley University’s online MSN program in Nursing Administration. By studying online you will be able to gain the vital education that you need to become a leader in the field of nursing, while balancing your many professional and personal commitments. Click here to learn more.