Updated: Aug 26, 2022
You wake up in the morning and prepare for your day ahead as a healthcare professional. You shower, get dressed, and make yourself fresh and ready for work. You leave home with a sense of making a positive impact on the world and in the lives of your patients.
To keep those positive vibes going, there are a few things you can do to jump-start your interactions at work. As a nurse, perhaps you work with physicians on a daily basis, and good communication is important. The Joint Commission recognizes the importance of effective communication in reducing medical errors and, ultimately, improving the safety of your patients.
Some of the interactions that you have with a physician might be intimidating. This apprehension could be related to the physician’s reputation, or it might even stem from inexperience in dealing with physicians, for instance.
It’s important to know that there are tools you can use to sharpen your confidence “edge.” Confidence will come with experience, but you shouldn’t have to wait for 5 or 10 years of experience to get an edge in communicating confidently. One important factor is body language.
It’s important to have good eye contact when you’re speaking with someone in person. If you are looking down or not maintaining good contact, you might give the impression that you have something to hide or that you don’t know what you are talking about.
During my residency training in internal medicine, I had one attending physician who gave me some advice that I was able to apply immediately to improve my confidence. My attending always emphasized good eye contact with the person with whom you are speaking. She also advised that if there was information that I didn’t know, that I should simply say that I don’t know it—and say it with a smile. Frankly, at the time, this struck me as odd. I thought, why in the world would I smile and say that I don’t know something?
Bottom line: It’s important to know when you know something and when you don’t know it. It may be uncomfortable to be asked something that you don’t know, especially if you think you should know that piece of information. Sometimes the hard part is not telling people information that you know, but admitting that you don’t know it or that you don’t have it readily available. The good thing is that you have the opportunity to look up or access that information.
If you try to guess at the answer or depend on a wavering memory, you may end up giving the wrong information.
Another point of good body language is how you stand when you are speaking to someone. It’s best if you stand straight and square, directly facing the person with whom you are talking. Even if you feel nervous or uncomfortable, you at least give the other person the impression that you are giving your full attention. You also appear more confident. Remember, it’s not always about what you say, but how you say it. In this case, your body language is important to portray confidence in that role.
Confidence is something that will naturally develop as your nursing experience increases. But you need to know how to use basic techniques to have the best connection with people. When you speak over the phone, one thing that will instantly reflect confidence is speaking a bit slower. This technique is also helpful when you are speaking in person.
Sometimes when you are in a stressful situation, it may feel natural to rush through the critical information when you are telling the physician about an issue. It may even seem logical that the quicker you say something, the faster it’s understood—but not necessarily.
I have been in a situation where I was rushing to give a message, only to find that the other person missed crucial bits of information because I was speaking too quickly. Speaking too quickly actually wasted time, as I had to repeat myself.
People that speak a bit slower tend to come off as being more knowledgeable and more confident. If you think about it, people tend to speak fast when they are nervous, not when they are secure and confident. Even if you are dealing with a physician with a reputation of being disruptive, your conversation will go better when you give good eye contact, face the physician directly, and speak a bit slower.
If you use these simple techniques, you will project confidence, and you will likely find that other people take notice.