Healthcare and nursing are built upon communication. Whether collaborating on patient care, research or education, we use communication in the course of our work. Practicing positive communication is paramount, and nurse leaders are no exception.

The power of words

Words are the scaffolding of our work relationships; how we use our words determines the success of our verbal intercourse with our colleagues.

Nursing leaders can use words to inspire and empower their direct reports. Alternatively, leaders can just as easily instill fear, anxiety, dread and all manner of negative emotions in their subordinates.

Savvy nurse leaders can be strong, assertive communicators. That assertiveness and strength can be conveyed using language that engages and inspires staff, rather than seeking subjugation or mindless adherence.

Modeling positive communication

If a nurse leader seeks to model positive communication for others, there are basic yet important tenets to practice on a consistent basis. This list is by no means exhaustive, but offers a solid place to begin.

Empathy: Empathic communication involves reflecting the feelings and experiences of others. When a staff member expresses dismay over a new piece of documentation, the leader can say, "I hear you're worried about how this new documentation requirement will impact your workflow. Let's give it a try, and then talk about your experience. There may be adjustments we can make once we've assessed the process." This communicates that the leader hears the nurse's concerns and is willing to address those concerns with an open mind.

Body language: Nonverbal cues are crucial for both the speaker and listener. The nurse leader can practice open, nonthreatening body language, and observe and appropriately respond to staff members' body language.

Avoid absolutes: Using words like "never" and "always" when describing someone's behavior are rarely helpful. Rather than "You never finish your documentation on time, and that has to change," try "I've noticed your documentation is frequently late; can we talk about what's getting in the way?" This involves a nonjudgmental observation and a nonthreatening offer.

Praise and criticism: No one likes to be criticized without having some aspect of their work praised. Look for silver linings, and cushion criticism by offering positive feedback when possible and appropriate.

Listening: It's been said that we have two ears and one mouth for a reason, and we should listen twice as much as we talk. The thoughtful nurse leader will listen deeply, and speak from a place of empathically hearing the other side of the conversation.

Clarity and conciseness: Clarity of speech is essential; being concise can go a long way. The nurse leader can cultivate a communication style that is direct without being blunt, while also being clear and economical. Repeating the same point ad nauseum will not necessarily engender understanding; thus clarity and conciseness are your allies.

Communication is key

For nurse leaders struggling with communication, there are myriad resources for improving workplace communication. Workshops, seminars, books, coaching, articles and research provide solid support for the nurse leader seeking more effective modes of communication.

Healthcare and nursing are steeped in communication and collaboration. Effective communication is key to the satisfaction of both leaders and staff, as well as the cultivation of positive, progressive and healthy workplaces.