No nurse should be subjected to violence, assault or obscenities. Regrettably, however, verbal abuse and threatening behaviour sometimes go with the terrain, particularly for nurses working in mental health, general practice and accident and emergency departments. In healthcare, dealing with people who are aggressive, angry, abusive, hostile or confrontational can be a daily occurrence – and it often goes unreported (Harwood, 2017; Sato et al, 2013; Rahim and Shah, 2010).
Difficult situations may have a number of precipitating causes and the more factors at play, the greater the challenge will be. Your own circumstances (for example, whether you are tired or stressed) will also play a part. If you are tired, your patient is angry and in pain, and there are staff shortages on your shift, the encounter will be more difficult than if just one of those factors were present. Nurses are taught to be non-judgmental. Labelling a patient as unpleasant can be unhelpful: rather, think of the interaction as difficult.
Many healthcare encounters are emotionally charged, involving fear and worry, pain and distress – for friends and relatives, as well as patients; this can create a volatile situation. Communication techniques can help de-escalate aggression and can even prevent it from arising in the first place (Webb, 2011).
11 essential workplace communication skills
As a company that spends a lot of time thinking about what effective workplace communication skills are, we’re not here to waste your time with some listicle full of things you already know (“Listening is important!”). Saying “just enough” isn’t everything anymore. Read on to see what we mean!
These are practical, real-world takeaways for interacting in the workplace. Commit to practicing these key communication skills, and you’ll be on the road to more self-aware, effective, and meaningful relationships with others.
1. Knowing when to be silent
“Extroverted leaders have a particular challenge because they talk to think,” writes Roxi Hewertson for The Business Journals. “For them, talking is an important part of processing information and ideas. They risk grabbing too much airtime and shutting others down.”
2. Choosing the appropriate communication channel
“I needed to make some big changes within my organization, but I wasn’t getting anywhere with senior leadership. I’d talked about the issue in my one-on-ones; I’d sent emails and made phone calls; I’d circulated documents. Nothing was sticking. Finally, I put a slide deck together. And the response was like: ‘Ooh, a deck.’ They finally listened and responded to what I had to say.”
When it comes to choosing the right medium for your message, considering your recipients’ preferred channel is only one piece of the puzzle. A few other factors to take into account:
Too many workplaces default to synchronous communication, for example, simply because that’s what humans default to. Yet shifting to even 10-15% fewer meetings (in favor of sending emails or asynchronous video messages instead) could translate to everyone getting a whole lot more room to focus on the real work.
Knowing which communication channel to choose also includes knowing the difference between synchronous vs asynchronous communication — for example, pinpointing the moment a Slack conversation is going off the rails and it’s time to jump on Zoom.
3. Listening well
If you’ve been told more than once that you interrupt, or your partner has said some variation of yes, I did tell you about that; you just weren’t paying close attention, or you’ve gotten feedback that you take up too much airtime in meetings, you might want to invest in improving your listening skills.
Knowing how to send information is only half of being a good communicator. Receiving it well is the other part (and the trickier one, at that). Make a concerted effort to become a better, more active listener — it won’t just improve your work life; it’ll have a positive effect on all your relationships.
4. Asking good questions
Making a habit of asking these questions before offering your own point of view will ensure you always have a solid understanding of the big picture — and everyone’s feelings about it.
5. Providing context
According to ARC Leadership Dynamics, people have one of two possible communication styles: We either give and receive information as context communicators (people who want the full story, and all the details that make up the big picture) or content communicators (just the facts, ma’am).
It’s helpful to know which type of communicator you are, as well as which one your recipient is. Does your boss, for example, want to know every little detail? Or do they become annoyed by too much “extra” information?
Especially when you’re disseminating information to a group of people, an effective “TL;DR” at the top of your message will complement the detail and cover your bases when it comes to considering the content and context communicators on your team.
6. Delivering and receiving critical feedback
Feedback is a gift. Knowing how to deliver it effectively and receive it graciously, however, doesn’t come naturally to us. We shy away from offering constructive criticism because we don’t want to rock the boat, and upon receiving it, we get defensive “to protect our character and our sense of competence.”
“Successful people only have two problems dealing with negative feedback. However, they are big problems: (a) they don’t want to hear it from us and (b) we don’t want to give it to them.” — Marshall Goldsmith, What Got You Here Won’t Get You There
Improving Your Leadership Communication
Communication is at the core of effective leadership. If you want to influence and inspire your team, you need to practice empathy and transparency, and understand how others perceive you, through your verbal and non-verbal cues.
To improve your communication skills and become a better leader, begin by assessing your effectiveness so you can identify areas for improvement. Then, set goals and hold yourself accountable by creating a leadership development plan to guide and track your progress.
Do you want to enhance your leadership skills? Download our free leadership e-book and explore our online course Leadership Principles to discover how you can become a more effective leader and unleash the potential in yourself and others.
About the Author
Lauren Landry is the associate director of marketing and communications for Harvard Business School Online. Prior to joining HBS Online, she worked at Northeastern University and BostInno, where she wrote nearly 3,500 articles covering early-stage tech and education—including the very launch of HBS Online. When she’s not at HBS Online, you might find her teaching a course on digital media at Emerson College, chugging coffee, or telling anyone who’s willing to listen terribly corny jokes.