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Interpersonal skills needed in nursing and the ways it impacts the quality of care

Interpersonal skills are one of the most crucial competencies within the nursing profession. Communication, empathy and active listening are central to both patient and colleague interactions. In fast-paced hospital settings, work is often stressful, and remaining calm under pressure is also a key skill required in maintaining the empathetic, high-quality communication required for a career in nursing. Approaches to communication are one of the nursing training focuses developed through classroom learning alongside learning from the approach taken by healthcare professionals in clinical rotations.

One central communication skill within almost all healthcare professions is the ability to distill complex information into a clear and concise format. This connects to gaining a clear understanding of the relevant information. Through building a core foundation of clinical knowledge, it is then possible to respond effectively, working collaboratively towards the best outcome within a multidisciplinary team. A clear understanding of the role within a team is important in this context as this is necessary for efficient collaboration.

Throughout the patient journey, managing expectations is crucial for the patient and their family. This involves empathy, tact and a clear understanding of clinical processes. Effective communication helps build trust, which is crucial to supporting a patient throughout their treatment. These skills can be learned and developed within educational programmes offered by institutions such as Carson-Newman University. Offering a wide range of courses for aspiring family nurse practitioners, Carson-Newman University’s courses are accredited by Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education, contributing to why nurses are so trusted.

For more information on the wide range of interpersonal skills required to succeed in a career in nursing, read more below.

Why active listening is crucial to high-quality care

In a fast-paced clinical setting, active listening is crucial to ensure that communication is effective. In the context of direct patient care, active and focused listening is crucial to understanding a patient’s condition. Active listening can be demonstrated in responses to another party’s statements showing that their concerns and challenges are heard and understood. Verbal and non-verbal cues can help convey this active listening approach to patients, building trust and forming a crucial pillar of high-quality patient care.

Active listening is equally as important when communicating with colleagues. Detailed information can often be communicated quickly in a clinical setting, and listening actively will help facilitate efficient communication. Comprehension is a key component of any active listening skill set and is particularly important in a clinical context. Responding effectively is also key. This provides an opportunity to provide the speaker with confidence that their message has been understood before providing insight in a clear, structured manner.

Whilst there are a number of steps that can be immediately implemented to ensure active listening, implementing this skill set in a clinical setting is often more challenging. Learning how to consistently apply active listening skills within a fast-paced working environment is a skill that can be developed whilst working towards qualification as a registered nurse. In many cases, the core focus in a conversation is on the content, whilst active listening also places a focus on tone, intent and body language to build empathy with a speaker’s views, perspective and challenges.

Communication in collaborative problem-solving

In many cases, communication and interpersonal skills are key to problem-solving. Depending on an individual healthcare professional’s role within a clinical process, the best approach to communicating will vary, but the core skills remain the same. For example, in initiating a problem-solving process, identifying the best stakeholders to assist with the problem and succinctly communicating the issue is crucial. Equally, when joining a team in solving a problem, it is often crucial to quickly explain and substantiate insight into potential solutions, raising relevant questions clearly.

Engaging and listening with a team will help foster a culture where all stakeholders feel comfortable contributing ideas, insights and questions throughout a problem-solving process. Communication within a department is also important in improving problem-solving processes. The ability to depersonalize feedback and ensure the main issues and opportunities for improvement are clearly communicated is key to ensuring the continued improvement of clinical care and patient outcomes. Throughout these processes, it is often necessary to adapt the form of communication depending on the context.

Decision-making in clinical care can largely be characterized as a problem-solving process. The first step is clearly identifying the problem. Patient communication also forms a central role. Active listening is crucial throughout this process to identify the best outcome based on what can often be nuanced and complex challenges. Communicating more widely with the team is crucial once a course of action has been established to ensure a coordinated approach to delivering high-quality patient care. Effective problem-solving is a defining factor in the patient journey, and a team’s approach to communication throughout these processes is crucial to ensure best practices are followed.

Expectations management throughout the patient journey

Providing accurate information on what to expect throughout the patient journey is key to building respect and trust with patients and their families. This involves listening to and understanding questions and concerns, as well as looking for cues that your communication is understood. One context where this skill is relevant is in situations where there are a number of clinical options. Helping patients understand a clear picture of the advantages and disadvantages of each approach is crucial in helping them make the most informed decision.

Providing information clearly and empathetically can help encourage active patients’ participation in the decision-making process. It may be the case that some time is needed to process new information, so ensuring there are opportunities for further questions to be asked is important. Once a course of treatment is underway, communicating realistic expectations in terms of recovery in rehabilitation is important so the patient can plan around this timeline. In many contexts, there may be resources that can be signposted with information and support options for patients and their families.

In some contexts, it may be necessary to adjust expectations. This requires an empathetic and supportive approach. For some conditions, the prognosis can be very complex based on a wide range of factors, with new information providing a new perspective. In this case, it is important to ensure any changes are explained in a timely manner with a focus on addressing and acknowledging any questions that may be relevant. Communication within a healthcare team will help ensure that the patient journey is monitored with any changes explained to the patient and addressed effectively.

Conflict resolution in clinical settings

In any professional context, proven conflict resolution tools are a crucial asset in an effective communication approach. Communicating openly and actively listening are important to diffusing tension and resolving conflict. It is also important that all parties feel heard and understood. There is a wide range of complex stresses that can be present in clinical settings, which can increase the risk of conflict. Understanding and identifying these stresses is an important component of averting and resolving conflict within healthcare.

In many instances, conflict can result from miscommunication. In a fast-paced setting, this is a present risk. In other instances, conflicts can result from concerns or challenges unrelated to communication. In these instances, identifying, managing and resolving conflict early on is necessary to avoid issues compounding. Once a conflict has been resolved, the follow-up process is equally as important. Maintaining an open dialogue can help ensure that issues have been addressed and opportunities to improve the approach to conflict resolution are identified.

Whilst conflict resolution is a critical skill, best practices in communication can significantly mitigate the risk of conflict in a clinical setting. Providing a clear understanding of expectations and explaining the anticipated patient journey is one step in this process. Maintaining a clear dialogue with other members of a clinical team whilst monitoring patients’ concerns is also important to ensure their needs are met. In some instances, it may be necessary to seek support from a manager or supervisor outside the immediate department. Understanding when to seek help or guidance is equally important as many other interpersonal skills discussed in this article.

Explaining complex topics to patients and families

In clinical decision-making, it is often necessary to distill complex topics into the key points relevant to patients and their families. Understanding that different people respond to different communication approaches is crucial in this. Communication aids such as charts, graphs and videos can also help. Often there are sites, pamphlets, brochures and other handouts that can also support patients in understanding the information relevant to the decision-making process in more depth.

Understanding this process from the patient’s standpoint is a crucial component of a healthcare professional’s interpersonal skills. There is a wide range of factors that can make information more challenging to process for patients and their families. Being mindful of this and allowing time for information to be processed allows for an empathic, compassionate approach to this component of patient care. Availability for questions and discussions once the information has been processed is an important aspect of compassionate care.

Patient advocacy in improved clinical outcomes

A nurse’s role in direct patient care means that, in many cases, their understanding of a patient’s condition may be more nuanced than other healthcare professionals within a department. Identifying and notifying other stakeholders of developments in a patient’s condition is a key aspect of a nurse’s role. Maintaining an open dialogue with a patient and their family is also key to ensuring that they understand that all the necessary steps are being taken from a healthcare standpoint.

Effective patient advocacy also means providing support for patients’ individual needs. For example, linguistic barriers may introduce the need for a translator to ensure that the available options are fully understood. More broadly, identifying opportunities for improved communication can help prioritize patient advocacy within a healthcare system. This can vary from implementing a checklist of patient needs at the outset of a patient journey to ensuring that their needs are monitored and addressed throughout their care.

Empathetic communication for compassionate care

Empathetic communication is central to high-quality patient care. Ensuring that people surrounding a patient are included in the communication is key to this empathetic approach. Compassionate care focuses on building a foundation of dignity, trust and respect, ensuring that the patient and their family are engaged in decision-making throughout treatment. Maintaining approachability within a team helps to foster an environment where patients can ask questions and maintain an open dialogue about their condition and treatment plan.

Leadership in multidisciplinary settings

As nurses’ careers develop, they may be required to take on a leadership role within a multidisciplinary team. A key component of leadership is understanding the day-to-day challenges of team members to provide support and guidance. When taking on a leadership role, demonstrating a commitment to understanding these challenges can help achieve buy-in from team members, which is crucial to achieving coordinated healthcare aims.

Sometimes, it is also necessary to provide feedback to team members. In this case, it is important to take an empathetic approach whilst providing direct, actionable steps that can be taken to improve. Helping team members achieve their potential within a role includes managing workloads, suggesting options for continued professional development and fostering a positive working environment. This reflects that new interpersonal skills are required at each stage of a healthcare professional’s career and training opportunities should be taken to utilize available support in developing these competencies

Communicating with other healthcare professionals

Effective communication with other healthcare professionals is central to high-quality outcomes within any healthcare setting. With a wide range of roles within a given department, including doctors, nurses, physical therapists and healthcare administrators, a team’s interpersonal skills will help contribute to a coordinated approach to healthcare. The range of healthcare professionals can differ depending on a hospital department, and clinical rotations throughout nurses’ training will help develop an understanding of the ways in which nurses collaborate within different teams.

This is crucial in understanding team members’ expertise and appreciating how roles are delegated within a team. With a wide range of specialists within any hospital department, drawing on their expertise will help ensure the best practices are put in place for patient care. This varied expertise brings a diverse range of perspectives to a team. Actively listening and contributing your perspective in rounds and meetings will help senior stakeholders within a department make the best decisions for a patient’s care.

Contributing to a clinical team

A clear understanding of responsibilities and expectations within a clinical team helps contribute to efficient clinical processes. Good teamwork is often underpinned by high-quality communication improving the efficiency of a wide range of processes and systems in healthcare. Effective collaboration is an interpersonal skill building on trust and respect within a department to achieve shared goals. In this context, it is important to take a proactive approach looking for opportunities to contribute and support team members.

Adapting communication to the required context

Different approaches to communication will be required in different contexts. For example, training staff will often require a methodical, deliberate approach, ensuring that all trainees understand the subject matter clearly before moving on to the next topic. Conversely, it may sometimes be necessary to provide relevant information quickly and concisely to assist other stakeholders with decision-making. Assessing and deciding on the best communication approach in each context is a crucial component of a healthcare professional’s role.

Developing interpersonal skills required for nursing

The interpersonal skills required for nursing can be developed through an accredited training course. After qualification, interpersonal skills can continue progressing through experience and professional development. Whilst at nursing school, clinical rotations provide the opportunity to observe approaches taken by other healthcare professionals handling the varied communication challenges encountered while working in a hospital. Finding the course and institution that’s right for you is key to developing the skills necessary for a career in nursing.

The core interpersonal skills required for a nursing career include active listening, empathy, conflict resolution, leadership and patient education. Working towards building this skill set throughout a nursing degree requires effective time management and self-reflection. Clinical rotations throughout this training period help place the classroom learning in context and can often help direct self-study. Whilst there are different skills required in different healthcare professions, the core interpersonal skills required overlap considerably.

Once qualified as a registered nurse, continued professional development provides the opportunity to continue to build on interpersonal skills developed throughout a degree. This is important as different interpersonal skills will be required as a nurse’s career develops. Leadership, mentorship and teaching skills are all necessary for senior nurses. Systems management, data analytics and research skills can also be necessary depending on the chosen career pathway, requiring communication skills to communicate detailed information. With the communication strategies covered in a nursing degree forming the foundation for this career development, choosing the right university is crucial. Finding the right course to fit your style of learning will help you begin building towards your career in this rewarding and challenging field.

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