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Why nurses should brush up their small talk skills

Having a chat with a patient about something other than their health can help put them at ease and is an essential part of delivering excellent care. So, how do you skilfully and appropriately bring the art of conversation into your nursing job?

"Small talk can be big talk in achieving nursing goals." That was the conclusion of research carried out in 2016 by Lindsay Macdonald, a registered nurse and research fellow at the University of Otago in Wellington, New Zealand.

Of course, this will come as no surprise to the legions of nurses who have experienced first hand the positive effects of chatting informally with patients. It's well known to everyone from dentists to hairdressers: small talk can put people at ease, as well as helping you engage with them and win their confidence. In frontline healthcare jobs that can lead to better communication concerning important things such as symptoms, wellbeing and treatment plans.

That being said, making small talk doesn't come naturally to everyone. So we've put together a few tips for nurses to help you break the ice and strike up a meaningful conversation.

Find the right topic

The best way to engage with somebody is talk about them, not you. There are plenty of topics you can choose, from hobbies to holidays. Use your imagination and try to avoid defaulting to our favourite British obsession: the weather.

Show interest

Good communication is as much about listening as talking. If you've asked a patient a question, it's important to focus on their answer and respond appropriately, maybe asking another related question. You'll soon have a lively two-way conversation going.

Be sensitive

As a nurse, you come into contact with all sorts of people of all ages. So, it's important to be conscious of social, cultural or religious sensitivities, particularly when your patient is from another country or a member or an ethnic minority group.

Avoid humour

Be careful about making jokes. Humour is a very personal thing and what some people find funny, others can easily find offensive or irritating.

Know when to stop

Some people love to talk. Others are less communicative. That's just the way it is. You should never try to force a patient to engage in conversation with you if they don't want to. Give them time. They may just need to get to know you before they feel comfortable with having a chat.

The Royal College of Nursing (RCN) website has some useful advice on developing your communications skills. Find out more here.
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