How do I incorporate communication skills into my staff orientation?

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Communication between nurses, between nurses and physicians, between nurses and patients, between nurses and members of other healthcare professions, and any combination of these individuals in an ongoing concern. Most, if not all, needs assessments contain references to the need for better communication within an organization. But, how can the same old information be presented in an innovative way? Here are some suggestions.

You might start by assembling learners in the classroom. Very clearly define what you mean by good communication. Include verbal and nonverbal, and don’t forget the audio components (tone of voice and pitch). Include body language and cultural considerations for those staff and patient populations that are most often part of your community. It would be helpful if you would provide this information in handout form along with both good and bad examples. You could also use a DVD and role-play examples as introductory materials. Make sure all learners are consistent in their understanding and definitions of good and bad communication.

Then divide the group into pairs or teams, whichever is most appropriate. Ask them to walk around the hospital and identify three examples of good communication and three examples of bad communication using the definitions agreed upon in the classroom introduction. They should confine their observations to areas of public access, such as the hospital lobby, cafeteria, elevators, etc. At no time should they observe or report any communication that would violate confidentiality or privacy laws. At no time should they identify—by name or any other means—the identity of people involved. For example, it is okay to describe an interaction between a visitor in the lobby who asks a passing nurse for direction by identifying those involved as a visitor and a nurse.

At a specified time, the learners should return to the classroom setting and share their observations. They should protect the confidentiality of those observed, merely identifying them as nurses, physical therapists, volunteers, etc. They could share their observations in a variety of ways, such as:

  • Team presentations
  • Group discussions
  • Role-play
  • Another method of their own choice for sharing observations

Activities such as these usually have quite an impact on learners as they observe the realities of communication within their organization. Part of the experience should be asking learners to devise strategies to correct communication problems they observed.

Adrianne E. Avillion, DEd, RN

(November 2010)