Career advice

Communication: Assert yourself, in a good way

With resources stretched to the limit, good communication is more important than ever to ensure safe and effective care. In the first of a three-part series, Mandy Day-Calder looks at how to develop an assertive style

With resources stretched to the limit, good communication is more important than ever to ensure safe and effective care. In the first of a three-part series, Mandy Day-Calder looks at how to develop an assertive style


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Regardless of what field of nursing you are in, how you communicate is an integral part of the care patients receive. If you reflect on any treatment plan you will discover layers of communication, such as between GP, patient, carers, relatives, emergency staff, ward staff and community teams.

Yet unlike mastering clinical skills, it can be hard to quantify what exactly is ‘good’ communication. Often, it’s only in hindsight that we see where and why it has broken down.

The Oxford dictionary defines communication as ‘the imparting or exchanging of information by speaking, writing, or using some other medium’.

It’s the way you say it

That’s true, but effective communication is more than the sharing of information – the manner of what is being said is as important as the content.

How does it feel when a colleague rattles off a list of things to be done during the shift and makes no effort to check for understanding or feedback? Or when someone speaks quietly, avoids eye contact and struggles to make distinct points? Both styles of communication – known as aggressive and passive – can be confusing and frustrating.

On the other hand, when you can speak clearly, calmly and respectfully you are more likely to get your points across without stressing others or yourself. This assertive style doesn’t always come naturally.

Common barriers

  • Lack of time. The myth is that it can be easier and quicker to keep quiet. But if this means important information is being missed, you are not saving time.
  • Assuming others know better. It’s easy to think you should always follow the lead of more experienced nurses. Nursing is teamwork – you need to learn to express opinions in a constructive way.
  • Fear of being disliked. It’s natural to want to get on well with colleagues, but this doesn’t mean having to agree with them about everything.
  • Age. Younger and older nurses can find it hard to stand up for themselves. You have as much right to be heard as every other nurse.
  • Lack of confidence. This may be about your clinical knowledge or your ability to find the ‘right words’.

How to improve

  • Actively listen to others and show respect. Assertiveness is not about getting your point across regardless of anyone else.
  • Check your understanding. Don’t be afraid of asking for clarity, and be open to questions.
  • Think before you speak. Take a breath and avoid reacting in haste. Be mindful of your body language and tone of voice.
  • Take responsibility. Use ‘I’ statements for your opinions and feelings.
  • Show flexibility. One style of communication doesn’t fit all situations.
  • Be honest. Always speak with integrity.
  • Dig deep. Being assertive takes courage, conviction and practise. Ask colleagues for feedback, which can also be used for your revalidation.

Mandy Day-Calder is a freelance writer and life/health coach


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