Communication in Nursing: Why Effective Skills Matter

Each blog post is dated and contains accurate information as of that date. Certain information may have changed since the blog post publication date. If you would like to confirm the current accuracy of blog information, please visit our ABSN overview page or contact admissions at (877) 505-2276.

Effective communication in nursing is critical to building trust between patients and nurses and keeping patients safe. Learning nursing communication skills, like active listening, prevents breakdowns and possible medical errors. Plus, addressing social, environmental and psychological barriers to communication can improve health care for the whole team.

nurses and doctors in conversation

Did you ever play the telephone game as a kid? Remember how the message at the end isn’t entirely accurate? Communication skills are important in many aspects of life, but effective communication is vital when pursuing a career in nursing.

Nurses play a crucial role in patient care, and their communication ability can affect patient outcomes and overall health care delivery. Communication in nursing also influences teamwork and the overall quality of care delivered.

At Harding University, you’ll learn essential communication skills to become an effective nurse and communicator. Our accelerated Bachelor of Science in nursing program provides you with the skills and knowledge needed to earn your license and embark on a successful nursing career.

Let’s explore why communication is important in nursing, highlight the key skills contributing to successful interactions with patients and colleagues and how to overcome communication barriers.

Why Skillful Communication is Important in Nursing

Gallup reports nurses are still considered the most trusted professionals, and their excellent communication skills contribute to this reputation. Effective communication in nursing is crucial for improving three aspects of clinical practice: patient care, team collaboration and, most importantly, safety in the health care environment.

Patient-Centered Care

When interacting with their patients and families, nurses must have high-quality communication skills like compassion and empathy. Listening to your patients and spending time with them can offer insight into their understanding of their diagnosis and care plan. Good communication also helps ensure patients make informed decisions about their health care.

If a patient’s family member is providing care, it is even more critical that the nurse communicates with them. Effective communication has a profound impact on patient outcomes and the overall success of the nurse-patient relationship.

nurse talking with family

Care Coordination

Nurses spend a lot of time communicating with their patients throughout their day, but nurses also need to learn how to communicate effectively with other members of the health care team. For example, nurses must give patient status updates to the physician or the oncoming shift.

According to a survey by the Joint Commission, up to 80% of medical errors are due to poor communication between care teams during a transfer of care.

Keeping all care team members updated means providing accurate and relevant patient information that is timely and concise. Good communication, both written and verbal, can make a difference in patient outcomes.

Safety and Risk Reduction

Poor communication can lead to simple errors, such as a patient on a fluid restriction receiving too much because the previous nurse forgot to record their apple juice, to significant medical errors, such as wrong site surgery or even death. Nearly a third of medical malpractice claims are because of poor communication, and nurses are not exempt from these proceedings.

No matter the error, big or small, communication is key to reducing potential medical mistakes and poor patient outcomes.

nurse setting up IV bag

Communicating with patients and health care staff is just one aspect of a nurse’s responsibilities. Read more to learn what nurses do daily.

Key Skills for Effective Communication in Nursing

Now that you understand that quality nursing communication is more efficient and saves lives, here are some essential skills you can practice while in your nursing school clinicals to improve your communication skills:

Active Listening

Active listening involves being engaged and not distracted when communicating with others. This can make patients feel seen, heard and respected, ultimately improving the trust between patients and their care providers. For nurses communicating with their patients, this includes:

  • Making eye contact
  • Being quiet when patients and family speak
  • Providing physical feedback like leaning in or nodding
  • Avoiding interruptions
  • Restating to confirm your understanding
  • Asking open-ended questions

Interpersonal Connection

Establishing a solid interpersonal connection with your patient enhances the nurse-patient bond and contributes to a more supportive and empathetic health care environment. An interpersonal connection in nursing means you understand your patient’s needs and can build trust by establishing mutual goals that meet their personal and medical needs.

Cultural Awareness

Nurses encounter patients from different backgrounds and cultures. Cultural awareness in nursing improves your ability to connect and communicate effectively with your patients.

Awareness of a patient’s culture, such as proper greetings or diet preferences, helps build their trust in your nursing care. You can better care for a diverse patient population by promoting inclusive practices.


Compassion in nursing communication emphasizes empathy and kindness to enhance the patient experience and contribute to better outcomes. Even if there is a disagreement or misunderstanding, having compassion builds on the other pillars of successful communication and maintains trust in the relationship.

Closed-Loop Communication

Closed-loop communication is an important communication skill for nurses and health care professionals, especially during high-stress and critical moments such as cardiopulmonary resuscitation or CPR.

nurses and doctor talking

Closed-loop communication requires the recipient to repeat the information or instructions out loud to ensure everyone receives the same, clear message. For example, “Dr. Jones, to clarify, you are asking for 1 mg of epinephrine to be administered intravenously. Is that correct?” Dr. Jones would reply, “Yes, administer 1 mg of epinephrine intravenously.”

Overcoming Common Communication Barriers in Nursing

Addressing common barriers to communication in nursing is essential to improve your nursing communication. Here are some ways to address environmental, social and psychological factors that can hinder effective communication:

Environmental Barriers

Busy and noisy health care environments can create challenges for effective communication, especially in high-stress environments like the emergency room.

Nurses can overcome environmental barriers by choosing quiet spaces for important discussions with patients, limiting the people in the room to those who are part of their care team and ensuring patient rooms are conducive to conversation.

Nurses can also use technology to enhance communication with language translation services or patient education handouts printed in the patient’s preferred language.

Nurses should only ask family members to translate for patients if they specifically request it or decline a translator service. Be sure to thoroughly document how you provided patient education and care.

Social Barriers

Health care organizations can sometimes create social barriers between doctors, nurses and assistants, making open communication difficult. Nurses and all health care team members, including patients and families, should be encouraged to voice their concerns, ask questions and contribute to discussions, fostering a culture of open communication and collaboration.

Open communication, free of social barriers, improves team productivity so health care providers can administer the best care possible.

Psychological Barriers

Stress, burnout and emotional fatigue can impact a nurse’s ability to communicate effectively and a patient’s ability to receive information.

For nurses, implementing wellness programs, providing mental health support, and promoting work-life balance can help address psychological barriers and enhance nursing communication skills. Training and practicing with other nurses prior to hard conversations can boost your confidence, ensuring you get the right message across. Make sure there are no distractions and that patients feel supported when sharing vital information.

Using the practical solutions you’ve learned here, such as active listening and closed-loop communication, you can overcome barriers and promote effective communication with your patients and the entire care team.

Nursing school helps you develop valuable nursing skills, preparing you for an exciting career. Read more to learn nursing school interview questions to help you prepare to apply.

woman sitting in interview with resumé

Develop Communication Skills with Harding University

As a nurse, you are critical to patient outcomes and the healing health care environment. Effective communication in nursing is one of the most vital tools nurses have to impact their patients’ lives, improve their work environment and build rapport with colleagues.

Through Harding’s ABSN, you can earn your Bachelor of Science in nursing in as few as 16 months. Our program provides a comprehensive and high-quality education that prepares you for the rigors of a nursing career.

Through a combination of online coursework, nursing simulation labs and clinical rotations, you will have the chance to further develop communication skills along with essential nursing concepts and practice.

Contact our admissions counselors today to learn more about the program and how you can take the first steps toward a nursing career.