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Types of Blocks to Communication in Nursing

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Although the primary responsibility of nurses is to provide medical care to patients, their role doesn’t end there. Thanks to their constant interaction, patients often view nurses as the human face of an otherwise impersonal hospital atmosphere. When interacting with patients, it is important for nurses to follow a few guidelines to avoid hitting roadblocks that hamper effective communication.

Being Judgmental

To encourage patients to disclose what is on their mind, it is important to provide an atmosphere where they don’t feel someone is judging them. Many times, patients who are in pain express a feeling that touches a chord deep within you. Instead of jumping in with a response about how it is right or wrong, it is vital to listen patiently until the patient completes what he is saying. Rather than agreeing or disagreeing with those sentiments, draw the patient’s attention to exploring the topic further.


Although it is important to ask questions to gauge the physical condition of the patient, it is unprofessional to ask personal questions that are irrelevant to the situation. In circumstances when such information is necessary, it is important to word questions in such a way that they don’t sound accusing. The easiest way to do this is to avoid questions beginning with “why.” For example, saying, “You seem out of sorts today. Is there something bothering you?” is better than asking, “Why are you so grumpy?”

Expressing Personal Opinions

When interacting with a patient, avoid saying, “If I were you…” or “I think you should do…..” One of the major blocks to communication is shifting focus from the patient towards you. Expressing a personal opinion is an unnecessary intrusion on the patient’s personal space. In some cases, when a nurse tries to express sympathy, the patient may perceive it as a feeling of pity. A better approach is to encourage the patient to express her opinions, act as a sounding board, and help her arrive at her own decisions.

Providing False Reassurances

A patient who is ill wants to know exactly what he is up against. When such a patient asks the nurse for input, responding with a cliché such as, “Don’t worry, everything is going to be fine” is of absolutely no value to the patient. In fact, providing such false assurances only makes it more difficult for the patient to come to terms with his health situation. Rather, nurses should recognize the patient’s anxiety, empathize with this, and encourage him to speak about his fears.

Lack of Listening

When patients complain, it is tempting to change the topic to something else. When nurses do this, patients perceive them as rude, and tend to stop communicating. Other ways of not listening include reacting defensively when patients criticize something at the hospital, or responding with generalizations. For example, if a patient is complaining about her insurance problems, and how the administrative staff is doing nothing to help, the nurse should listen and avoid saying, “The admin staff would never do that,” or “What will you do – that’s the way things are.”


Hailing out of Pittsburgh, Pa., David Stewart has been writing articles since 2004, specializing in consumer-oriented pieces. He holds an associate degree in specialized technology from the Pittsburgh Technical Institute.

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