Today, every nurse must have strong interpersonal skills, but especially nurse leaders. Sometimes called “people skills,” interpersonal skills focus on how you interact with others. Whether it is communicating with a patient, caregiver, another nurse, provider or care team member, nurses must become skilled communicators. Strong interpersonal skills can improve patient care, enhance teamwork and strengthen career prospects.
The ability to communicate effectively is an essential skill for all nurses at any stage of their career and in all positions, from student nurses to nurse executives. A Registered Nurse to Bachelor of Science in Nursing online program can help you hone those people skills.
What Are Interpersonal Skills?
Interpersonal skills focus on the four C’s: communication, collaboration, collegiality and customer service. Healthcare is a customer services industry. Successful care relies on daily interactions between staff and patients.
“It doesn’t matter how great a nurse you are…you’re in the people business,” said Joni Watson, MBA, MSN, RN OCN in an Oncology Nursing News article.
Although lists vary, interpersonal skills include listening, problem-solving, decision-making, conflict resolution, empathy and understanding, to name a few. Interpersonal skills are linked with emotional intelligence (also known as emotional quotient or EQ). This is the ability to understand, use and manage emotions — including social skills.
Healthcare team members need to build the social capacity to realize what other people feel and act professionally. Nurses should strengthen their interpersonal and emotional intelligence skills to improve their patient care.
How Can you Build Your Skills?
Interpersonal abilities are as critical as technical skills. Just like other abilities, they must be learned and practiced in order to be mastered. Focus on these three areas: attitude, body language and active listening. Try some of these action items:
- Interpersonal skills begin with a positive attitude and demeanor. Negativity can spread, creating a toxic, non-productive environment. You cannot always avoid a negative person, but you can set limits and focus on your own attitude. Stress or a crazy workday can impact your attitude.
Action: Take just three deep breaths outside a patient’s room before going into the next. Keep positive and pay attending to your thoughts.
- Body Language. Body language is non-verbal communication that may or may not be aligned with verbal communication. Eye contact, nods, smiles and facial expressions show that you give patients and coworkers your undivided attention.
Action: Ask others how they read your body language. Students can film themselves in a skills lab.
- Active Listening. The key to successful communication is listening more and talking less. Active listening is where you focus on hearing the words another person is saying and try to understand them.
Action: Try these non-verbal active listening skills and verbal, active listening skills:
- “It sounds like…”
- “What I hear you saying is…”
- “You seem…”
- “Let’s make sure I understand…”
Where Can You Practice?
Look for situations where people are showing positive attitudes and good communication — whether real or a simulation. Practice awareness of your non-verbal active listening skills at school, work or home. Explore group or team activities, particularly with feedback that can help you focus on your ability to interact with others. Nurses can consider different scenarios, role-play simulations and case studies, or reflect on their own experiences to strengthen interpersonal skills. One of the best ways to demonstrate strong interpersonal skills is to remain calm and collected even in stressful situations.
Nurse-patient communication depends on strong interpersonal relationships, sometimes known as therapeutic relationships. Numerous studies show that the nurse-patient relationship contributes to better patient outcomes and satisfaction as well as population health and well-being. Improving your “people skills” with evidence-based communication skills can be beneficial to both nurses and patients.