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Principles of Effective Communication in Nursing Practice


Communication is a key skill for leaders in any workplace. As you work toward your Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) degree, it’s important to develop effective communication skills as a future nurse leader and patient advocate.


As Lambrini Kourkouta and Ioanna V. Papathanasiou noted in their article, “Communication in Nursing Practice” for Mater Sociomed, communication is a key part of all nursing practices including treatment, prevention, rehabilitation, education, and health promotion. For this reason, nurses who aspire to become transformational leaders should note the principles of effective communication.

Effective Communication Is Bilateral

Effective communication is bilateral, according to Kourkouta and Papathanasiou. The person sending the message also becomes the receiver of messages, and vice versa. Nurses should be conscious of this message sending and be aware of taking on both roles during conversations.


Kourkouta and Papathanasiou noted that negative conclusions and attitudes are typically a result of people who fail to understand the bilateral nature of effective communication. Listening and speaking are equally important.

Effective Communication Calls for Understanding All Parts of a Message

The American Nurses Association and AONE (the American Organization of Nurse Executives) believes that effective communication goes beyond merely understanding the message.


Effective communication requires an understanding of a message’s intent, the speaker’s purpose in delivering the message, and the speaker’s expectations about what the listener will do with the message once received. This communication also calls for an understanding of the message’s context, or how it fits into a wider dialogue. In forms of daily communication, nurses should focus on all parts of the message, not only on the words they hear, to effectively communicate with both colleagues and patients.

Effective Communication Requires Active Listening

Kourkouta and Papathanasiou observed, “The message sent is not the same as the message received.” The listener decodes the speaker’s message in a process subject to perceptions and individual factors.


While a chance exists that the listener will interpret the message exactly as the speaker intended, this exact interpretation may not always occur. Indeed, active listening is an important principle of effective communication.


In their paper “Active Listening: The Key of Successful Communication in Hospital Managers,” Vahid Kohpeima Jahromi, Seyed Saeed Tabatabaee, Zahra Esmaeili Abdar, and Mahboobeh Rajabi explained, “Active listening requires listening for the content, intent, and feeling of the speaker.” Active listeners should ask questions and give nonverbal, visual cues to indicate they take an interest in what a speaker is saying and understand it. Nurses can practice this skill in many contexts, including listening to patients describing their symptoms.


These researchers also noted that active listening typically doesn’t happen during “hurried communications,” emphasizing the need to slow down and take the time to effectively communicate.

Effective Communication is Both Verbal and Nonverbal

Much communication theory focuses on verbal communication. However, effective communication also requires consideration of nonverbal cues. This observation is especially true in high-intensity environments, such as those in which nurses typically work, when communication typically goes beyond words, according to the American Nurses Association and AONE.


Kourkouta and Papathanasiou noted that facial expressions, posture, gestures, and physical barriers — such as how far away a speaker stands from a listener — are all key nonverbal cues.


In most cases, you’ll receive both verbal and nonverbal messages from people you’re communicating with. However, in her paper “Effective Interpersonal Communication: A Practical Guide to Improve Your Life,” Kathleen A. Vertino, DNP, PMHNP-BC, CARN-AP, noted that some patients cannot communicate verbally. Nurses should pay close attention to these patients’ nonverbal cues to learn about what they’re trying to express.


Verbal cues beyond the message itself are also important, according to the American Nurses Association and AONE. These organizations encourage nurses to listen for a speaker’s tone and the emotions conveyed to gain a greater understanding of the message.


A speaker’s verbal and nonverbal communication should agree for clear communication. If the nonverbal cues don’t match the verbal communication, listeners should employ active listening techniques to ensure they understand a message correctly. This point is vital for nurses, who may speak to patients with conditions that impair their ability to accurately give nonverbal cues. By employing active listening, according to Kourkouta and Papathanasiou, nurses can more accurately assess and respond to the needs of their patients.

Effective Communication in Nursing Requires Good Relationships

“The therapeutic relationship is an important prerequisite to effective communication between health professionals and patients,” Kourkouta and Papathanasiou observed. They explained that this relationship encourages patients to share information candidly to their nurses and other health professionals and ensure that patients receive the information their nurses impart.


Receiving undesirable medical news can be unsettling for patients, but when a therapeutic relationship exists, nurses can better manage their patients’ mental welfare and express their genuine concern.


A safe and open environment is also important for effective communication between nurses and other health practitioners, the American Nurses Association and AONE noted. Such an environment helps professionals feel comfortable sharing their thoughts. Nurses should focus on improving their relationships with all people they encounter to create safe, open environments that promote effective communication. For example, greeting patients with a smile and asking questions about their welfare can help comfort patients.

Effective Communication Involves Conflict Resolution

While good relationships are a cornerstone of effective communication, conflict may not always be absent. In her paper, Vertino insisted that conflict is not inherently negative. Instead, if managed correctly, conflict can encourage nurses and the people they encounter to discuss relevant issues and employ problem-solving skills.


Communication during conflict is only effective if the communication itself is respectful. Both speakers and listeners should maintain an open mind during conflict, as this mindset will help them accept appropriate alternative solutions. However, Vertino stressed that not every conflict can be resolved. Indeed, nurses should remain open to alternative points of view, if, for example, disagreements arise about treatment options for their patients.

Effective Communication Requires Accuracy

Accuracy for effective communication can’t be understated. The American Nurses Association and AONE noted that accuracy should be a guiding principle for all nurse communicators, whether they are giving or receiving information.


A message can easily become distorted when it passes from one person to another. For this reason, the American Nurses Association and AONE stressed that nurses should speak directly with the people with whom they need to communicate. This principle can offer the best chance of the correct person receiving the most accurate information.


Learn how to become a more effective communicator in your workplace through coursework as part of a Doctor of Nursing Practice degree program. Begin today by exploring the online nurse practitioner program at Maryville University.


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