It seems impossible to avoid advice about becoming a better communicator because it appears everywhere. The ability to express yourself well is essential to leadership and management: you must communicate your vision, mission, and goals to your staff and team members in a way that’s inspiring and motivating. But there’s another side to effective communication that’s too often overlooked: attentiveness.
Highly effective nurse managers never underestimate the importance of listening with empathy and the goal of understanding another point of view. Empathizing can help to defuse negative emotions in a conflict. And the ability to listen allows you to connect not only with your staff but also with leaders in other departments, who may have a different set of interests from yours. You will often have to balance these competing interests, and you can’t do this effectively if you don’t understand the priorities held by others.
A truly attentive manager provides the staff with opportunities to be heard, perhaps through questionnaires or meetings that include time for each attendee to speak.
Yet, while listening is important during scheduled meetings, nurse managers should also listen informally – for instance, when chatting during meals or coffee breaks.
Your ability to listen may also have an indirect effect on patient care. When you listen to your staff, you empower them to speak up, without fear of repercussion. When staff nurses are free to voice ideas or concerns, it eliminates many of the disparities in knowledge or power that are common within the health care hierarchy. Why wouldn’t you want to listen attentively to your frontline caregivers? Their ideas can lead to process improvements that can enhance patient safety or cut operating costs.
Effective leaders also demonstrate attentiveness in the form of positive feedback. They give praise and make compliments that are timely, sincere, meaningful, and personal. They know true attentiveness is not a superficial pat on the back or an offhand comment like “great job, everyone.” Leaders understand that it matters to team members to have their individual efforts noticed and commented on personally.
When there is a conflict, attentiveness comes into play in the form of active listening skills. Active listening is often taught through role-play, because it takes both practice and effort. It is a set of skills that you actively choose to employ during a discussion with another person who is angry, upset, or frustrated. No amount of training can make you a better listener unless you decide to practice and improve your active listening skills.
Here are some basic guidelines for improving active listening skills:
- Do not share your own anger or frustration with the other person.
- Suspend judgment – do not allow a certain word or phrase to trigger an automatic response or prompt you to believe you’ve heard the same story before.
- Respond appropriately, both verbally and nonverbally. It’s not enough to be listening – the other person must see that you’re listening, because you’re maintaining eye contact, nodding where appropriate, and so on.
- Don’t interrupt, even if it seems the other person is talking for a long time or sharing details that are not important.
- Show that you are fully engaged in the conversation by asking questions or taking notes when it’s appropriate to do so.
- Do not react hastily. Plan a response that is thoughtful and considers the other person’s perspective first.
There is a wealth of available information about active listening and management skills. You can tap into it by taking courses or reading widely about the topics. Formal nursing education is another good option. American Sentinel’s online MSN, Management and Organizational Leadership degree is designed for experienced nurse professional who seek to develop both management and leadership skills. Through case studies and hands-on course work, nurses examine the various human resource challenges facing an organization as well as the dynamic nature of the strategic planning and management processes.