9 Tips for Communicating Under Pressure

  1. High stress workplaces pose unique communication problems. Communication failures in nursing can create dangerous situations for both staff and patients. Arm yourself with these 9 tips to increase your ability to communicate under pressure.

    9 Tips for Communicating Under Pressure

    Nurses understand stress. Sometimes you can feel it in the air as you walk on to the unit. For nurse leaders, it may hit you like a ton of bricks as you open the door to a meeting room. Once the intensity of your workplace environment changes, communication can become stressful, tenuous, and downright difficult.

    The Importance of Effective Communication

    No matter what industry, experts agree that effective communication is needed to make your workplace function at its highest capacity. Of course, in nursing, ineffective communication can create sentinel events, workforce harm, poor patient experiences or wasted resources. One study found that communication failures were a factor in 30% of healthcare malpractice cases, which included 1,744 deaths.

    Knowing how to communicate under pressure can save lives.

    Tips to Consider for Effective Communication

    1. Control your emotions - This is often easier said than done. We are emotional beings that react under pressure. You are not doing anything wrong by becoming emotional, it just interferes with your ability to see the situation objectively and communicate clearly.

    Don't be afraid of conflict - Not many people openly embrace the idea of conflict, but avoiding it will not make it go away. When you have to communicate under pressure, remain calm, respectful, and practice direct communication.

    2. Consider non-verbal communication - When you are under stress, your body and face likely tell the story before you ever open your mouth. Gregory L. Jantz, Ph.D. suggests learning how to read other people's body language as well as your own. Mastering body language can guide your conversations along with spoken words.

    3. Shut up! - The proper use of silence can be an effective strategy during stressful communication. According to mediate.com, creating space for questions through the use of silence is a powerful gift. Silence can be uncomfortable and we tend to fill silence with emotion. When silence happens during stressful conversations, it is noticed. Using silence as an effective communication tool can be difficult. You must not withhold communication as a means to frustrate others, but use it as a way to reflect, consider, and then deliver your thoughts in an effective manner.

    4. Maintain clear delivery - Being clear in word choice, tone, and delivery is an important factor in communicating during stressful situations. Be sure to use pauses, vary your tone, and maintain eye contact.

    5. Learn to say what you mean with tact. Don't blame the other person and steer clear of criticism and sarcasm. A great way to decrease tension is the use of "I" statements. This shows that you are taking responsibility for your feelings and actions.

    6. Soften your responses - When in doubt, request more information. As tensions escalate, you are likely not listening or communicating to your full abilities. Be sure to soften the way you respond in a way that allows the other person to know you need more information. For example, instead of telling someone you flat out disagree or feel they are wrong, try saying something like, "Can you help me understand" or "Maybe I'm missing something". This lets the person know you are listening and trying to understand their side of the story too.

    7. Consider Biases - We all have them, even though we don't like to admit it. And, in conflict, you may be working from a place of bias. Consider what your biases are about a situation and learn to set them aside. This will allow you to clear up the current stressful conversation as well as limit future issues over the same topic.

    8. Relax - If you feel a stressful conversation coming on, take a walk away from the stress if possible. Sit in a quiet place and take a few deep breaths. A few minutes out of the stress can give you clarity about the stressful conversation that is about to start.

    9. End on a Positive Note - If possible, try to end the pressurized conversation with a positive statement or resolution. This is not always possible, but if you can muster up the courage to apologize and accept your part of the conflict, you may be able to walk away knowing you did your best to add a positive spin on the situation.

    Communicating under pressure is never easy. By using these 9 tips the next time you feel a stressful conversation brewing, you can de-escalate the emotions that come along with stress.

    Have you had a stressful conversation that ended better than you thought because you used one of the tips above? Is there an important tip missing from the list? Leave your thoughts in the comments below to start the conversation.
    Last edit by Joe V on Jun 14
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    About melissa.mills1117, BSN

    Melissa Mills has been a nurse for 20 years. She is a freelance writer, career coach, and owner of makingspace.company. She enjoys writing about leadership, careers, lifestyle, and wellness.

    Joined: Feb '17; Posts: 206; Likes: 654
    Freelance Writer, Nurse Case Manager, Professor; from OH , US

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    3 Comments

  3. by   Ashley Hay, BSN, RN
    Great topic, Melissa!
  4. by   PotatoRN
    I have been thinking about this subject lately, this is a quick and useful read. These are some of the things I constantly try to keep in mind at work, and it's hard sometimes I will admit!

    An example from a while back when I was orienting to a new hospital:
    I had a pt with n/v unrelieved by his prn med. I called Dr, they ordered an extra dose. Pt still had n/v despite the extra one time dose. I called the Dr again about the situation, he was not too concerned and then said I should have asked when he was at the bedside (an uncalled for statement that added to my frustration). I informed him I was not on the floor at the time because I was orienting with a preceptor and I was at lab for a drop off. I then tried to stress the pt's need and suggested possibly giving another med. He sounded annoyed and told me there is "no other med" to give for nausea and hung up before I could say more.

    My self-reflection in this situation is that because the Dr was irritable, kept trying to rush me to hang up, and did not seem concerned, I became frustrated and my emotion regarding the situation probably stunted my ability to communicate in a calm/controlled tone or to have chosen a better delivery.
    In the end my preceptor called back shortly after me and received an alternate med for n/v and hinted at the fact he doesn't take well to new staff.
    Despite that tidbit, I think it could have gone a little differently had I communicated with the guidelines listed above.
    I have found with time that enhancing my own communication abilities is the best way to deal with people who don't always practice effective communication.
  5. by   melissa.mills1117
    @PotatoRN- Communicating with others is hard! That is why I actually prefer dogs. lol! .

    But, seriously......I hear what you are saying. Your story brought back all kinds of memories of similar issues over the years. Telephone conversations, while convenient, can be infuriating. And, a doctor that does not like new staff could be a very dangerous thing to have if a patient is circling the drain. I think the best thing we can do as professionals is to reflect on these situations and do better next time.

    Thanks for sharing! ~Melissa

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