As a nursing professional, you are expected to excel in multiple distinct skill areas ranging from medical knowledge to best practice to documentation. Of course, one set of skills and know-how in particular can sometimes get overlooked but is critical to a nurse’s success. People skills, sometimes referred to as soft skills, include a number of distinct but related aptitudes.
This skillset is vital to a nurse’s day-to-day profession. From interacting with patients and families to working alongside peers to supporting medical leads, having strong people skills can not only improve your experience as a nurse but can help you improve your overall performance in order to achieve promotions or new positions.
Here are some of the most important people skills that you should cultivate if you are (or plan to be) a practicing nurse.
For most nurses, a large amount of their normal communication happens orally. From speaking with patients and family members about their care to interacting with other nurses and medical professionals, oral communication can comprise a huge part of the total communication a nurse may engage in during their normal working routines. This can be particularly relevant if you have (or would like) a nursing position that includes management responsibilities or interacting with administration members, outside stakeholders, or academics.
Additionally, oral communication can be of particular importance for nurses that train students or work with residents.
One helpful strategy for improving your oral communication can simply include asking for regular feedback on it. Ask your peers or colleagues you trust to provide you with their thoughts and suggestions for how you can speak more clearly and effectively. Make sure they feel safe to share their real thoughts and opinions.
Additionally, developing your oral communication can also be helped through seeking out strategies and learning aids developed for other professions and lines of work. Doing a quick online search for communication tips, public speaking strategies, and more can help you round out your oral skills.
As our world becomes increasingly global and diverse, rubbing shoulders or interacting with people from different cultural backgrounds is becoming a regular part of more and more people’s experiences. This is particularly true in the healthcare industry. Even in geographical areas that are more or less homogenous, nurses get more and more opportunities to interface with those of multicultural origins. These can include both patients and medical staff. It is more important than ever for nurses to be culturally sensitive and aware. This helps nurses connect more readily with patients from different backgrounds, to interact more effectively and easily, and to create stronger rapport with people from different cultures.
Exposure to other cultures and cultural norms is one of the best, and really only, ways to develop a higher sense of cultural awareness. If you have the means to travel to another country and experience a different way of doing life, try prioritizing an international trip this year and be intentional about participating in local culture while you’re there.
But there are plenty of other ways to build cultural sensitivity. Try watching movies made in other countries. Seek out activities or clubs that happen in your local area that involve other ethnicities, particularly ones that are facilitated or hosted by people from different cultures than you. Or simply take the time to ask people of different ethnic or cultural heritages in your workspace about their lives, histories, and experiences.
Ask them about their food, their perspectives on current events, or their families. You’ll be surprised at how much your perspective and interactions begin to shift if you prioritize developing your cultural sensitivity and awareness.
Many believe that this skill is innate rather than learnable — either you are a compassionate person, or you aren’t. However, though some individuals can be more naturally compassionate or empathetic than others, anyone can develop and strengthen their sensitivities in these areas. Compassion is defined by Merriam-Webster as “sympathetic consciousness of others’ distress together with a desire to alleviate it.” Compassion simply involves, according to this definition, knowing that someone is experiencing distress and caring to help.
In a nursing role, the first part of that formula is an everyday part of the job. You will constantly encounter people who are experiencing distress of some kind. The trickier part for some nurses can be the second component of compassion — a genuine desire to help. There can be many reasons for this. Compassion fatigue and burnout are serious conditions that many nurses and medical professionals experience during their careers that can make this part of the equation very difficult.
However, rekindling and strengthening this “muscle” is very possible. Compassion can be nurtured. One important way of doing this is asking questions and getting to know your patients on a more personal level. The more you hear of people’s stories, the more you get to know them as people; and the more you’ll be able to tap into a genuine compassion that surpasses knowing their distress and spurs a desire to help alleviate it.
“Professionalism” comprises a few different elements. It involves maintaining courteous behavior and communication even when patients or family members are treating you poorly. It includes keeping cool when discussions get heated. It requires taking ownership of decisions and actions. Professionalism is a difficult trait to sum up in just a few words. However, it is a vital aspect of nursing that is highly sought after and should be recognized, incentivized, and valued.
Developing professionalism can be aided by having strong mentors. Whether other nurses, medical colleagues, or people you respect that work or exist outside the healthcare landscape, mentors you ask to speak into your life or help you talk through complex situations can help point out ways to become more professional and integrity-driven in your work.