5 Ways to Improve Your Listening Skills

5 Tips to Preventing Medication Errors in Nursing

By Sarah Stasik, Contributor

Do you think you're listening properly to your patients? Communication is one of the most important nursing skills, but according to recent studies, there's a disparity between what nurses believe they are doing and what is actually happening.

Nurses and physicians overwhelmingly think they make a conscious effort to listen to patients without interrupting them. In fact, in a recent Medscape poll, almost 90 percent of doctors and nurses said this was the case.

A study published in the Journal of General Internal Medicine in the summer of 2018 seems to indicate a disparity in perception between healthcare provider and patient when it comes to listening, though. In that study, patients noted that their agendas were only addressed around 36 percent of the time by providers.

For nurses, communication skills must be an ongoing focus throughout their career. Whether you've been an RN for decades or are just starting out, check out the five strategies for improving listening skills below.

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5 Tips for Improving Nurse's Communication and Listening Skills

Even if you think you put an onus on listening, check out these tips for increasing your nursing skills when it comes to communicating with patients.

1. Don't interrupt the patient

"A lot of times, you know where the conversation is going," says Stephanie Shepard, RN. "Or maybe you think you do. It's tempting to cut the patient off to speed things up, especially if you have limited time."

Shepard says you can't always let patients tell you their entire life story or ramble about their issues for a long time because nurses are busy and other patients need you too. But it's important to give patients a chance to communicate in their own manner whenever possible. You may know what the answer is, but giving them a chance to air their concerns and grievances helps patients feel like they are being respected and listened to.

2. Integrate EHR technology with care

Many provider responses to the Journal of General Internal Medicine study mentioned above dealt with the use of EHR technology during patient communication. Nurses and doctors both felt that they could make a better effort to concentrate less on the electronic medical record and more on the patient.

That doesn't mean leaving technology out of the room, but it does mean taking care not to position computers or devices between you and the patient and ensuring you're making eye contact and listening to new complaints rather than relying solely on what's already on the screen.

3. Understand what "listening" means to patients of all ages

Patients of different generations and backgrounds may communicate in different ways, and nursing skills dictate that RNs become adept at speaking and listening to all of their patients. Younger generations may understand that nurses can listen while working on EHR devices because those patients may be doing the same thing with their smartphones. People in older generations may not feel the same.

It's also important to note that communication is evolving. Many younger patients may want nurses to "listen" equally well to electronic communications, such as emails.

4. Engage in active listening

Nuananong Seal and Mary Wiske, RNs, say nurse communication should include active listening. That means listening fully to what patients are saying, without interrupting, and then echoing or paraphrasing back the message. That echo ensures you understood correctly and assures the patient that you were, indeed, listening to them. By actively listening and confirming the message, RNs can increase patient satisfaction and reduce the risk of miscommunication.

5. Manage your own stressors to increase listening and nursing skills

Finally, take time to manage your own stress, anxiety or other issues. If you're dwelling on something that has upset you or aren't coping well with your own stress, you may have a hard time listening to patients. A calm, collected RN is better able to employ the right nursing skills to care for and communicate with patients.

Nursing communication is a critical skill for RN success. And while you may think you have it mastered, studies show there's always room for improvement when it comes to this must-have nursing skill.

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