10 Effective Nursing Communication Skills for Nurse Leaders

Clinical nurse leader communicating with a patient.
Clear standards of communication yield many benefits and positive results for health care organizations, from efficient collaboration to increased employee retention, minimized medical errors, and an improvement in patient feedback. As such, the ability to communicate productively is instrumental to building a safe and productive environment.

Through advanced education, such as earning a Doctor of Nursing Practice, nurse leaders can develop crucial communication techniques that facilitate the optimal delivery of care. Verbal, nonverbal, and technological communication, as well as rapport-building skills, such as active listening and compassion, are among 10 nursing communication skills that aim to improve medical care.

Organizational Nursing Communication Skills

The ability to communicate efficiently and effectively can have serious and long-lasting effects. Between health care professionals, communication often involves critical information such as a patient's care, medication, or standards of procedure, making accuracy essential. To ensure information is relayed properly, a few key nursing communication skills optimize delivery among staff, organizational leaders, and stakeholders.

1. Verbal Communication

Effective communicators are assertive in their approach. Using calm, measured speech and a respectful tone, nurse leaders can minimize the risk of miscommunication and ensure information is not lost in medical jargon. Nurses can support each other and improve patient care by cultivating an environment of reciprocal respect through open communication.

2. Nonverbal Communication

Nonverbal cues play a large role in interpersonal communication. Something as simple as crossed arms or slumped posture can greatly affect the way an individual interprets an interaction. The implications and meanings of certain motions such as eye contact or hand gestures may vary among cultures, so nurse leaders must be culturally competent and aware of what their nonverbal cues may be communicating.

3. Written Communication

Maintaining accurate and well-formatted medical information is fundamental for effective communication. Correct grammar, spelling, and diction are all integral parts of proper written conduct and remaining professional.

4. Presentation Skills

During advanced degree programs, graduate students learn to build nursing communication skills necessary for a compelling presentation. Nurse leaders can tailor data and visual aids to fit their target audience and streamline the delivery of new information, critical knowledge, and policies to groups, organizations, or staff.

Rapport-Building Nursing Communication Skills

Developing a relationship of trust and respect between health care professionals and their patients is crucial to the proper delivery of care. By acknowledging individuals’ varying circumstances, experiences, and beliefs, nurse leaders can build open and thoughtful rapports with patients.

5. Active Listening

According to a study published in Medical Care concerning perceived discrimination during a health care visit, the majority of non-white participants reported experiencing perceived racism or classism and felt like their providers did not listen to them. To prevent communication breakdowns and establish an open rapport, many nurse leaders utilize active listening.

Both a nonverbal and verbal skill, active listening is the act of giving one’s undivided attention to another individual. Using culturally appropriate cues and affirmations, the listener shows that they are invested in the conversation, which can encourage patients to speak openly.

6. Compassion

Compassion is a sympathetic desire to help, allowing nurses to make a patient feel cared for while conserving their own energy. It is an extremely valuable nursing communication skill for interactions with patients as well as colleagues, as it entails conveying kindness while maintaining some emotional distance for the care provider. For nurse leaders, it is crucial to not only be compassionate but to recognize when they or the nurses they oversee face compassion fatigue.

At some point in their career, nurses may deal with some level of compassion fatigue. While the symptoms may be similar to burnout, it is an occupational hazard that occurs due to the challenging and traumatic situations nurses encounter, and can affect their worldview or ability to feel compassion for others. Nurse leaders who can provide a supportive environment that encourages awareness and self-care can improve the lives of nurses and their patients.

7. Empathy

Empathy allows someone to understand another person’s feelings, creating a safe environment for open communication. Patients who feel empathy from their health care providers may be more willing to divulge the root cause of an issue, leading to more accurate and effective care and an increased likelihood of medical plan compliance.

Contextual Nursing Communication Skills

The goal of culturally competent health care is equal and consistent quality of care regardless of cultural, ethnic, racial, or religious backgrounds. Upholding this practice requires that providers take the time to understand a patient’s beliefs, motivations, and circumstances. By acknowledging and understanding each patient’s unique lived experience, nurse leaders can form context-specific and effective treatment plans for each individual.

8. Cultural Competency

The integration of cultural intelligence into health care allows nurse leaders to work in tandem with patients and their families. Adapting treatment plans, hiring interpreters, and consulting with a patient’s family and loved ones are ways nurses can accommodate and be cognizant of cultural beliefs. Through higher education and mindful learning, nurses pursuing an advanced degree have the opportunity to specialize in awareness training and transcultural care delivery.

9. Religious Beliefs

Religion and spirituality can impact any number of medical decisions, including dietary restrictions, medication, and willingness to pursue care. Encouraging open communication helps to reduce patient anxiety and helps nurses elect appropriate treatments that are sensitive to patients’ religious beliefs and increase the likelihood of care compliance.

10. Education

A new medical care plan may involve significant shifts in a patient’s daily life, so patients need to understand the reasoning behind these lifestyle changes. Educating patients on both the processes and rationale behind their treatment is crucial to care compliance and achieving positive change. Depending on a patient’s comfort level and knowledge of the care required, nurses must be able to modify explanations to ensure patients fully comprehend their situation.

Between nurse leaders and the nurses they oversee, opportunities for education involve both teaching new skills to nurses starting out in their careers and mentoring them on best practices when educating patients.

Develop Better Communication Skills to Provide Better Care

With strong nursing communication skills, nurse leaders can build a rapport with patients and develop an environment of trust and positivity in health care. For patients, being able to trust providers leads to greater compliance in care. Effective communication within health care teams also decreases the likelihood of mistakes and miscommunications, creating more positive medical outcomes.

In the true spirit of aloha — "kindness, grace, unity, humility, and patience" — Hawai‘i Pacific University’s MSN to Doctor of Nursing Practice is rooted in holistic care and designed to help you succeed. Featuring 100% online coursework, small classes with accessible faculty members, and dedicated student support from first contact through graduation, HPU is passionate about preparing you for leadership opportunities. Discover the difference you can make by pursuing an MSN to DNP with Hawai‘i Pacific University.

Recommended Readings:

The Benefits of Advanced Nursing: What Is the Expected MSN Salary Range?

Careers in Advanced Nursing: What Is a Family Nurse Practitioner?

How Family Nurse Practitioners Can Play a Major Role in Addressing the Growing Physician Shortage in the U.S.


The Balance Careers, "Important Active Listening Skills and Techniques"

Healthcare, "The Role of Empathy in Health and Social Care Professionals"

HIPAA Journal, "Communication in Nursing"

Houston Chronicle, "The Role of a Nurse Leader in Communication"

Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine, "Effects of Empathic and Positive Communication in Healthcare Consultations: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis"

Medical Care, "Impact of Perceived Discrimination in Health Care on Patient-Provider Communication"

Medical Care, "Perceived Discrimination in Healthcare and Mental Health/Substance Abuse Treatment Among Blacks, Latinos, and Whites"

Movement, Health & Exercise Journal, "Avoiding Medication Errors Through Effective Communication in Healthcare Environment"

Nurse & Midwife Support, "Communication Skills"

StatPearls, "Cultural Religious Competence in Clinical Practice"