Two Ways to Improve Working Relationships
If you would like to improve the nature of your collaborative professional relationships with colleagues (whether nurses or non-nurses), there are several key things to keep in mind as you navigate the interpersonal aspects of your nursing career and collegial relationships.
Listening is one of the most important communication skills that you can develop. Just as you listen closely and deeply to your patients and clients, you also need to listen closely to your colleagues and coworkers.
Active listening involves not only hearing what the other person is saying, but also listening closely for clues “underneath” their actual words. In other words, you listen for unspoken content that may give you further evidence as to what is actually going on for that person.
For instance, a colleague may say, “That patient really gets under my skin. I feel uncomfortable in that room.” Now, it may simply be that there is an inexplicable interpersonal dynamic between that coworker and patient that creates a certain unfortunate tension. Perhaps the patient is being malicious or lewd but your coworker is too ashamed to tell you. Or perhaps the patient reminds your colleague of a deceased family member or friend and she feels uncomfortable because of that transference. Your colleague may give hints about what he or she really means, and those hints may include body language or specific word choices. Listening well can help your colleague to feel more heard and for you to feel more present in that conversation.
Just as we learn to express compassion for our patients and clients, we also need to express compassion for our colleagues and coworkers. Working in healthcare can be stressful, and oftentimes our colleagues need nothing more than to be listened to and empathized with.
Compassion for a coworker does not necessarily communicate agreement with their opinions or feelings. It involves the ability to feel and demonstrate compassion, which can be reflected by deep, active listening, and expressions that communicate your understanding of what they are trying to express.
Compassion can also be expressed by reflecting back to your colleague what you have heard. This is not a verbatim repetition of what they have said, but rather a thoughtful response that communicates understanding and empathy with their feelings and expressions. A sympathetic pat on the shoulder can communicate a great deal, as can the acknowledgement that your colleague is experiencing stress, worry, grief, anxiety or other deep feelings.
These basic yet important communication tools can greatly improve working relationships in both simple and profound ways. Professional relationships in healthcare can be complex due to the often stressful milieu of the healthcare environment. Good communication and listening skills can do a great deal to soften the stress and bring colleagues into greater harmonious alignment with one another.
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