Tips for New Nurse Coaches: Communicating with Clients
By: American Nurses Association
So, you’re a nurse coach now. Congratulations!
You’re excited, of course, but probably nervous too. This is a new venture, and will require new skills, or at least new levels of existing skills, especially communication.
Communication is the heart, the essence, of nurse coaching. Without effective communication, there is no coaching. Here are a handful of tips for mastering this key skill.
- Be curious. Build a genuine desire to know the other person and to understand their experiences and values. Don’t assume that you know what your client means by what they just said. Ask more questions, get them to explain it to you. Encourage their stories. As you respond with genuine curiosity and interest, your clients will tell you exactly what is going on. Often, they will even tell you what they need and how to get there, and all you need to do is to help them hear what they just told you.
- Watch your (body) language. Up to eighty percent of communication is nonverbal, including such modalities as posture, gestures, eye movement, and facial expressions. Consciously modulate your body language to demonstrate interest, respect, and engagement. Learn how and when to use eye contact. Contrary to popular opinion, lots of eye contact is not always conducive to building trust. Learn when to look and when to look away. Listen actively, with your body. Sometimes, that means leaning in. sometimes, that means leaning back, and nodding when appropriate. You will develop your own style as you become more skilled. Remain aware of what your body is saying and continue to improve your facility in nonverbal communication.
- Ask, don’t tell. When coaching, the client is in charge. Instead of telling them what they need to do, ask them what they think might work. phrase your suggestions as questions. Instead of “I think you should do x and y,” try “What do you think about trying x and y?” As you let them lead, you will be surprised at the good ideas and innovative solutions they come up with. (Obviously, this does not mean that you decline to give your expert advice. That is, after all,part of why they are paying you. But do rephrase the way your present your expertise, and let the client decide what they would like to do, after you explain the various options and their pros and cons.)
- Give trust away. Trust is a keystone of effective communication. Actively demonstrate your trust. Where appropriate, you may want to tell the client that you trust them. For example, “I trust you to tell me when something I suggest does not work for you.”
- Tell the truth. Don’t sugar-coat. Don’t lie. Tell the truth, even when it isn’t what the client wants to hear. Of course, this is not a license to be harsh and unfeeling. Rather, this is a call to integrity, to truth-telling and gentle honesty. Give them an honest prognosis. Don’t exaggerate what coaching is capable of accomplishing. Give realistic timelines. But above all, tell the truth.
For additional tips on communication and other essential skills of nurse coaching, check out this book on the art and science of nurse coaching.