Communication in Nursing: Why Strong Interpersonal Skills Matter

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What is the importance of communication in nursing? Using active listening, interpersonal connection, cultural awareness, and compassion, nurses can overcome physical, social, and psychological barriers to connect with patients, patients’ families, and colleagues. These skills improve patient outcomes by providing efficient care and ensuring patients understand treatment and recovery plans.

two nurses looking at tablet

Nurses are on the front line of healthcare, constantly communicating with patients, families, and colleagues in high-stress situations. They must have impeccable nursing communication skills to keep composure and convey critical information.

At Madonna University, our Accelerated Bachelor of Science in Nursing (ABSN) program prepares students to strive for excellence and become nursing leaders. If you have a prior non-nursing degree from a regionally accredited college or university, you may be eligible to enroll in Madonna’s hybrid ABSN program. In as few as 16 months, you could graduate ready to take the NCLEX exam and start making a difference.

The Importance of Communication in Nursing

Effective communication in nursing is one of the basic tenets essential to collaborating with fellow nurses and colleagues in other disciplines. It also plays a significant role in patient-centered care.

Taking the time to listen and factor patients’ contributions into care allows nurses to address issues more effectively, leading to better clinical outcomes. Building a mutual understanding and rapport also provides a positive patient experience and increases patient safety.

Nurses must also be competent in communicating information regarding patients’ health and treatment plans and ensuring patients understand how to follow their recovery plans after discharge. Some patients rely on family members to fulfill their care plans, so nurses must explain the patient’s condition and other complex information in more straightforward terms that a layperson can understand.

Nurses need to communicate with each other to ensure patients receive quality care. A 2023 study published by the National Library of Medicine found that fostering quality communication and trust between nurses improves the standard of care and patient safety.

So, the entire profession grows stronger when nurses understand how to communicate.

Madonna students studying

Vital Skills for Effective Communication in Nursing

How does one effectively communicate? No one is born knowing how to communicate constructively; everybody needs to practice. Nurses can cultivate specific skills, such as active listening or cultural awareness, that will eventually become second nature to their practice and enhance their quality of care.

Let’s examine some essential communication skills nurses should master in their care practice.

two Madonna ABSN students in sim lab

Communication is just one of many crucial skills for nurses to have in their repertoire. Explore 11 qualities of a good nurse and discover if you have what it takes.

Active Listening

Active listening is not just about hearing what the patient is saying but taking it in, understanding, and showing you understand. This skill requires complete attention and engagement. Interviewers are taught that silence is the best tool, which applies to active listening. People will fill the silence when given a chance to speak without interruption. That’s why active listening requires both verbal and nonverbal communication skills. When using active listening, make sure to:

  • Show continued interest by maintaining eye contact and nodding your head without interrupting.
  • Sit down when you can to bring yourself to their level and lean forward to show engagement.
  • Maintain non-threatening and open body language while using verbal encouragements, such as “I understand” or “go on.”

Interpersonal Connection

Connecting with your patients beyond the reasons they are in your care is essential. It is easy to get caught up in the flow of your work and focus only on the tasks you need to complete. By building patient-centered relationships, you can help patients feel safer and more comfortable and improve patient outcomes.

To form a meaningful connection with your patients, try to:

  • Show an interest in their lives and share details of your own.
  • Spend a few minutes each day getting to know them.
  • Learn at least one unique fact from every patient.

Cultural Awareness

When working in healthcare, you’ll interact with people from all different social, cultural, and educational backgrounds. It’s essential to absorb verbal and nonverbal cues and be sensitive to the patient’s cultural traits. For instance, listen to patients to assess their English fluency and either adjust your speech or request a translator if available. When working with transgender patients or those who identify outside of the traditional gender binary, make sure to confirm their preferred names and pronouns and only refer to them as such.

Madonna ABSN student using stethoscope on patient


Compassion is a necessary skill in every aspect of healthcare. In a 2022 study published in the National Library of Medicine journal, researchers found that patients recognized compassion as listening and paying attention, following up and running tests, continuity and holistic care, respecting preferences, genuine understanding, body language and empathy, and counseling and advocacy. This shows that compassion is conveyed not only in language and emotion but also in physical actions. Putting your total effort and empathy into your care is essential, and your patients will see more positive outcomes.

Nurses leave a positive mark on their community by providing the best care possible. Don’t believe us? Discover six ways that nurses change lives.

Nurse in hallway smiling and talking with patient

Common Barriers to Effective Communication in Nursing

Not every patient will be open and willing to communicate, or they may misunderstand your communication attempts. To overcome these obstacles and build a healthy nurse-patient relationship, we must first comprehend the types of communication barriers that nurses face. There are three common barriers to communication in nursing:

Social Barriers

As a nurse, you will encounter patients with different languages, customs, cultures, religions, and ages, impacting how you communicate. Understanding the nuances associated with these attributes will help you avoid prejudice or insults. For instance, a teenager will have a different conception of health and wellness than an older adult. By acknowledging these distinctions and adjusting your language, you can tailor your communication to the individual.

Physical Barriers

The environment in which the communication occurs can impact a patient’s willingness to cooperate. A trip to the doctor or a stay in the hospital can be anxiety-inducing; adding loud noises or a gloomy atmosphere can heighten those symptoms. Actions as simple as opening the blinds or closing a door are easy ways to reduce patient stress and offer privacy to your conversation.

Psychological Barriers

Unfortunately, some patients have had negative experiences with healthcare, leading to anxiety around receiving medical treatment. Other patients have cognitive deficits from conditions like dementia or Alzheimer’s. By taking care to listen, empathize, and show support, you can help reduce any stress from the situation.

Start Making a Difference Today

Madonna ABSN students sitting in classroom

In Madonna University’s ABSN program, students can use their nursing communication skills from the start. Students work with our partner, Ascension Michigan, to gain practical experience during clinical rotations. With a values-based nursing curriculum, we encourage our students to provide the highest standard of care.

Contact an admission representative to start your future today.