Communication Skills in Nursing: Definition and Examples

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published 31 May 2022

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

Nurses often communicate with patients and other medical professionals while performing their duties. They require strong communication skills to more effectively understand the needs of patients and relay crucial medical information. Learning how to develop and highlight your communication skills during your job search may help you secure job offers. In this article, we define communication skills in nursing, provide examples of these skills, explain how to improve them and how you may use them in the workplace and go over some tips for highlighting these skills during your job search.

What are communication skills in nursing?

Communication skills in nursing are the verbal and nonverbal abilities you may use while working as a nurse to receive and provide information to and from patients, their family members and other medical professionals. For example, nurses often discuss diagnoses and treatment plans with patients and maintain patient medical records or write printed instructions for patients to refer to at home. Having strong communication skills is crucial to succeeding as a nurse.

Related: How to Become a Registered Nurse (With Duties and Skills)

7 communication skills for nurses

Nurses may use a variety of communication skills to provide personalised patient care and deliver positive outcomes. Here are seven important communication skills in nursing:

1. Speaking skills

Verbal communication is one of the most important communication skills for nurses to develop. It's essential for nurses to speak clearly, using complete sentences and a professional but friendly tone. It's also essential to enunciate and practise correct grammar to make sure you deliver your messages to patients and doctors accurately. You can gauge how good your speaking skills are based on how often other people understand you and don't need clarifications.

Related: What Does a Registered Nurse Do? (With Salary and Skills)

2. Non-verbal cues

You may also use body language and nonverbal communication when interacting with patients as a nurse. It's beneficial to show calm and confident body language that reassures the patient that they're in good care. Examples of nonverbal communication skills for a nurse include:

  • maintaining eye contact when speaking or listening to someone

  • having a relaxed facial expression

  • smiling

  • nodding

  • keeping arms uncrossed

  • crouching when interacting with a patient at the bedside

  • respecting the patient's personal space

Some patients may also have difficulties communicating verbally and require the help of non-verbal cues to better understand and provide information.

3. Active listening

Active listening is a communication skill that involves understanding, rather than just listening to, what someone is trying to say. Active listening techniques you can use when interacting with patients and doctors include:

  • repeating back to them their main point or message

  • observing the speaker's behaviour and body language

  • clarifying anything that's unclear

  • avoiding judgment

Active listening helps you better understand what patients are experiencing and empathise with their situation.

Related: 7 Ways to Practise Active Listening (Plus Benefits)

4. Compassion

It's crucial for nurses to show care and compassion when collecting and giving information to patients. Your kindness can help calm patients during potentially stressful situations and procedures. You can use compassion to acknowledge a patient's concerns and help them overcome their fears. Showing compassion can also help you gain the trust of patients.

5. Written communication

You can use written communication skills to take notes about patients, complete health records and share information with your colleagues. It's important that your writing is clear and concise to ensure you communicate important health information accurately to avoid misunderstandings. It's beneficial to have legible handwriting, use clear and concise language and have correct spelling and grammar. Learning more about different medical terminology and abbreviations can also help you read and write medical information more efficiently.

6. Education

Nurses often explain health conditions, diagnostic test results, medications, therapies and at-home care to patients and families. Your ability to explain complex health topics in a simplistic language is essential for effective communication with people that don't have a medical background. You might also be required to give presentations or demonstrations to other medical professionals to update them on new medical technologies or procedures.

7. Honesty

You can gain your patients' trust by being honest in your communication. It's helpful to be sincere and tell the truth when discussing test results, procedures or prognoses. It's also important to answer questions honestly, which may show patients you respect and understand them.

Tips for improving communication skills

Communication is a skill you can develop with practice and careful speaking techniques. Follow these steps to improve your communication skills in nursing:

Introduce yourself

When you first meet a patient, immediately introduce yourself, giving them your name and title. Explain why you're there and what you're going to do. Use patient identifiers such as their full name, birth date and address to confirm you're speaking to the correct person. Introduce yourself to any family members who are in the room with the patient. This can help you quickly establish a relationship with patients and their families to build trust that can help you more effectively perform your duties.

Practise speaking

Practise how you speak to your patients, either by yourself or with a friend or colleague. Talk at a reasonable pace, so your audience can understand you. Pronounce each word correctly and use familiar language and explanations, rather than complex medical terms. Pause between topics to give people time to ask questions or clarify any misunderstandings. Adjust your speaking volume depending on the situation. For example, maintain a quieter tone in shared spaces or where patients are resting. You can raise your voice slightly if you're communicating with patients who may have hearing issues.

Use body language

Be aware of your body language when speaking with others. Before interacting with patients, ensure to relax your expression and posture. It's helpful to keep your arms uncrossed and try to keep the patient at ease with your presence when you enter the room. If you have challenging news to share with the patient, consider sitting and speaking to them at eye level, especially if they're laying in a bed, and use a soft voice to inform them about their condition or next steps.

Communication skills in the workplace

Here are a few ways you can use your communication skills in the workplace:

  • Selecting an environment: It's important to select the right environment to share good or challenging news with a patient. You and the patient may find it beneficial to sit somewhere that's private and quiet to talk about their condition or discuss treatment plans.

  • Making your patients feel at ease: A doctor's office or hospital environment may be stressful for some patients to endure, so it's helpful to use your communication skills, such as your body language and tone of voice, to help them feel at ease. You can do this by smiling when you walk into the room and stating their name when greeting them.

  • Practising patience and empathy: Patients may have several questions or feel uncomfortable with the situation they're in, which is why it's helpful for you to use your commutation skills and practise patience and empathy when interacting with them. This can help them become more comfortable with their situation and allow them to trust you.

Tips for highlighting communication skills

Here are a few ways that you can highlight your communication skills as a nurse:

Communications skills on a resume

To highlight your nursing communication skills on a resume, you can accomplish this in two separate sections, the skills section and the work experience section. In the skills section of your resume, you can list the soft and hard skills you have that apply to nursing duties. Soft skills are abilities you can easily transfer between roles, such as communication. Hard skills are your abilities that pertain to nursing duties, such as prescribing medicine to patients.

When deciding the communication skills to place in your skills section, review the job description to see if employers requested specific skills. This also helps you include relevant keywords in your resume. You may also share your skills when defining the duties you handled in previous positions in your work experience section.

Related: 6 Communication Skills for a CV (Plus How to Highlight Them)

Communication skills for a cover letter

You can highlight your communications skills in your cover letter during your job search. Choose one or two of your strongest communication skills to discuss. When describing your skills, you can provide an example of when you used these skills and how they were helpful, such as if they benefited your patient, colleagues or employer.

Communication skills for the job interview

An interviewer may ask you a direct question about whether you have certain skills and you can share examples of when you used these skills. If the interviewer doesn't ask you a direct question about your skills, you can share them when they ask you situational or behavioural questions. You can also include your communication skills in your answers when speaking about your current and previous work experiences.

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