When Words Become Barriers to Effective Communication

I am a person of few words…most of the time.  It’s just who I am. I tend to hold things in because I have been that person who can easily “put my foot in my mouth” and say the wrong thing. I have also been known to just say what I’m thinking… or not say anything at all and bite my tongue. Admittedly, when someone else is speaking, I have been known to cut the other person off, mid-sentence, because I feel compelled to add to the conversation. Whether it is coming from a sense of urgency to share information relative to the topic, or because if I don’t say it at that moment, I will lose the thought entirely and it will escape my memory. Nevertheless, it is rude, and I reprimand myself every time. I also end up regretting some of the things that I have said, or wish that I had said it differently. It is a constant internal struggle and I remind myself of the quote from Mark Twain “It is better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to open one’s mouth and remove all doubt“.

I don’t like to talk on the phone; I would much rather text than talk. I have found my most comfortable and confident voice with the written word as it allows me the opportunity to think about what I want to say, and how to say it, in a more purposeful, thoughtful manner.  One would think that my lack of verbal skills would make me a great listener, but sadly that is not true either. If I am talking to someone and they start telling me a story, but the story has a backstory, which then starts to drift off topic onto another story, you’ve completely lost me; my eyes glaze over, my mind starts to wander.  I start thinking “what is the point to this story?”, “is there an ending any time soon”? Just please cut to the chase and get to the bottom line.


Of course I don’t say those words out loud, that would mean that I would have to talk and be faced with a verbal confrontation, which would take too much time and energy.  I know a few people like this, and I try very hard to will myself to pay attention to what they are trying to say. It’s not like I have a short attention span or anything like that, just when it comes to long stories, or long hand-off reports, my mind drifts.  I start going through my list of things-to-do in my mind and desperately search for a quick, but polite, way out of the conversation. Honestly, it is something that I wish I could change about myself…well, one of the things. I envy those who are quick-witted and can talk to anyone, or speak in front of large groups of people, in a calm, competent manner.

Nurses are often placed in situations when we are speaking with our patients and their families and we can’t seem to get out of the room. We start to wonder if one of our colleagues will notice that we are MIA and send out a search and rescue party.  And we all know that nurse who gives such detail-oriented, never-ending shift reports that you wonder why you need to know what your patient had for breakfast last week. Is this information relevant to my plan of care for the day? Of course I’m not talking about report for a critical patient who has a lot going on; I’m referring to those who feel it is important to tell me every single detail about the patient and his/her family. I am on a “need to know” basis during change of shift and I have to get report on several patients, or sometimes on the entire floor. Please just tell me the highlights. If I need more information, I know where to look, or I will ask. This is another reason why I advocate for bedside hand-off shift report, with the most important things discussed at the bedside: IVF, lines, dressings, VS, meds, etc. It also gives me an opportunity to “eyeball” the patient so I can quickly assess how they are, or if they are in pain or distress. An experienced nurse can gain a lot of information about their patient just by looking at, and talking to him/her. That first quick assessment is literally half of my initial shift documentation. I have 12+ hours to learn more…sometimes much more than I want to know.

In conclusion, use your words responsibly. Words can be a powerful tool for effective communication and can bring people together. They can also be a way to build barriers and destroy relationships. In my experience, words that are said using kindness, compassion, and truth are always the right ones to say out loud.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s