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How LPNs Communicate and What it Means to Patients

Effective communication is the cornerstone of nursing. Without it, no level of expertise matters.

As professional caregivers, licensed practical nurses (LPNs) are called to be empathetic, compassionate, and knowledgeable. But without the ability to express thoughts and emotions confidently, information, meaning and sentiment are lost in translation.

Few skills are as essential to an LPN as communication, and the good news is that the techniques necessary for success can be learned and refined through education and experience.

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What Is the Meaning of Communication?

Communication is nothing more than the exchange of information, but it’s more complex than it sounds. The process includes four components.

  1. The message, or the information to be shared
  2. The type of communication—written, verbal, and nonverbal methods, such as body language, visuals, and paralinguistics
  3. The reception, how others receive the message
  4. Feedback, how information and underlying emotions are perceived

For LPNs, skills in all four areas are essential. Breaks in communication can happen if even one part of the process fails.

What Are the Characteristics of Good Communication Skills?

For an LPN, good communication is respectful, concise, culturally and generationally sensitive, clear, sensitive, and discrete.


In the workplace, an LPN communicates primarily with colleagues and patients. But because professional, social, and therapeutic relationships are fundamentally different, the rules and expectations for communication vary with each. The nature of those relationships and their boundaries define how an LPN should approach communication. With patients and peers, a respectful tone is a must.


Speakers have less than seven seconds to make an impression on an audience. Messages that are too complex or don’t get to the point may quickly fall on deaf ears. Whether an LPN is giving discharge instructions to a patient or reporting symptoms to a physician, making points quickly hooks the audience. It also makes it likelier that the audience will remain engaged throughout the conversation.

Culturally and Generationally Sensitive

It’s a small world. Today’s LPNs can expect to work with patients in all age groups and from diverse cultural and socioeconomic backgrounds. Communication preferences for LPNs, from how patients wish to be addressed to which language they prefer to speak, reflect differences in age and culture. When an LPN uses communication approaches that work best for the patient, clinical outcomes improve.


Brilliant ideas can be lost in murky LPN communication. Before engaging in important dialogue, nurses should collect their thoughts and craft a clear message that their audience will understand. Education level, as well as cultural and age-related biases, affect how communication is received and should always be considered. Leave the technical jargon for professional presentations.


Patients appreciate expertise from LPNs, but they’re less likely to benefit from a health care provider’s advice if it’s delivered without compassion. Patients in crisis are emotionally vulnerable. Nurses see the worst cases in health care regularly and can become desensitized to others’ pain. For a patient, an illness is personal.


The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996, also known as HIPAA, strictly regulates who can access a patient’s private medical information. In most cases, data may be exchanged only between health care providers with the patient’s consent.

Nurses may not discuss cases with colleagues who are not involved in a patient’s care. HIPAA violations may result in termination and hefty financial consequences for employers. Vigilance and discretion are required.

What Is the Meaning of Active Listening?

Active listening is a therapeutic communication technique that emphasizes concentration. For an LPN, it requires being attentive and fully engaged, focusing not only on spoken words but also on the meaning and what nonverbal communication may be conveyed. LPNs then repeat what they heard to confirm the meaning was understood.

This technique not only improves the retention of details, but it also ensures accuracy and opens the door for patients to ask an LPN questions. The best communication is always well informed.

Communication Traps

Communication can be complicated, but avoiding these common traps makes it likelier to be successful. The common communication traps include criticizing, negatively stereotyping, monopolizing conversations, avoiding conflict, lacking empathy, displaying negative body language, and using poor grammar and spelling.


In a busy workplace, it’s tempting for an LPN to address a coworker’s failures by pointing out errors, but criticism is no way to start a productive conversation. Even if the comments are accurate and shared in a constructive spirit, it shuts down two-way dialogue.

In the face of what seems like an attack, the person being criticized is likelier to become defensive. Conversations focus on who’s right and who’s wrong instead of making meaningful change.

Negatively Stereotyping

Stereotypes can reinforce negative impressions about patients and colleagues. Obese patients, for example, may be seen as weak or uneducated despite the science that clearly refutes those ideas. LPNs should avoid judgment and see each person as an individual.

Monopolizing Conversations

Dialogue is a two-way street. It can be tempting to fill awkward silences with chitchat, but giving patients and coworkers a few quiet moments to process what they’ve heard before responding is not only polite, it evokes thoughtful answers.

Avoiding Conflict

Avoiding the boss, giving a coworker the cold shoulder, or not returning a patient’s phone calls can delay arguments or unpleasant interactions, but it changes nothing. Facing relationship challenges head-on is uncomfortable, but usually leads to a mutually satisfying resolution.

Lacking Empathy

Empathy is the ability to see the world through another’s eyes. Among coworkers, it fosters cooperation and teamwork, and for LPNs, it’s the key to providing patient centered care. Nothing builds interpersonal connections faster than empathy. When people are struggling, it gives them the sense that their burdens are shared, lightening the load and reducing stress.

Displaying Negative Body Language and Paralinguistics

Body language and paralinguistics, vocal qualities beyond words, are inherent parts of nonverbal communication for LPNs. Posture, gestures, facial expressions, and vocal qualities that don’t match verbal messages confuse listeners.

Slouching, for example, means that someone isn’t interested in conversation while a shrill, high-pitched tone of voice indicates stress. For an LPN, being aware of the signals negative body language and paralinguistics send helps avoid misunderstandings.

Using Poor Grammar and Spelling

Clear communication depends on proper grammar and spelling. Not only does sloppy writing reflect poorly on a professional, but it can also lead to medical mistakes.

The term “oral,” for example, means by mouth. “Aural,” however, relates to the ear. These two terms sound alike when spoken, but as part of a doctor’s order, a misspelling could cause a significant medication error.

When Do Good Communication Skills Matter Most?

A nurse spends most of the day interacting with others, either verbally or in writing. But there are times when excellent communication is professionally critical for LPNs.


Health care is documentation heavy. An LPN caring for a floor full of patients may need to write dozens of notes in a shift. Clear, concise verbiage saves time, not only for the nurse writing the notes but also for the nurses on subsequent shifts who will refer to those notes for information.

Data should be complete, and it must include parameters required by law. Poorly written nurses’ notes may come under scrutiny if a malpractice case goes to court, and most insurers require specific documentation for reimbursement.


The end-of-shift report is the oncoming nurse’s primary source of patient information. On a busy floor, there’s no time to weed through charts, so nurses from both shifts get together for a few minutes to share important details about patients’ conditions. Reports should always be concise and to the point.

Phone Calls

Changes in a patient’s condition must be reported promptly, but calling a tired physician in the wee morning hours without the necessary details is a recipe for trouble. As a professional, an LPN is expected to obtain the information the doctor needs before dialing.

Similarly, when calling an anxious patient about a test result, LPNs should be prepared to answer questions. Taking time to think before calling smooths communication and enhances patients’ confidence in their providers.

Patient Education

Patient education is one of a nurse’s primary roles. As a medical professional, an LPN should be confident when explaining a physician’s orders and answering questions about health topics. As with all care, education should be patient centered, so learning more about patients and their communication preferences is vital for the best results.

Both written and verbal communication should be geared to the audience’s education level and sensory capabilities. Until the mid-2000s, patient handouts and discharge instructions were written at a tenth grade reading level. But research shows the average Medicare beneficiary reads only at a fifth grade level. Changes made in the past decade have significantly improved readability.

When working with any physically compromised group, nurses should also evaluate sensory impairments. Large print materials, for example, empower the visually impaired.

Taking Orders

Studies suggest that some medication errors in hospitals occur due to inaccurate transcription. Several factors, including illegible handwriting and short turnaround time, have been blamed, but ultimately, nurses are responsible for the orders they transcribe.

If an order isn’t clear, clarification must be sought, and spelling is important. Confusing soundalike drug names such as ephedrine and epinephrine and Zyprexa and Zyrtec could have deadly consequences.

Skills That Enhance Communication

Communication helps LPNs build interpersonal relationships with their colleagues and the people they serve, but it’s not a stand-alone skill. The words of even the most capable orator will fall on deaf ears without a foundation of compassion and trust. LPNs are only as good as their word, literally and figuratively.

These tips lay the groundwork for better communication.

  1. Be approachable Nurses with a smile and friendly attitude make patients feel at ease when communicating.
  2. Show confidence Patients aren’t easy to fool. LPNs without the knowledge to speak about a subject confidently don’t inspire trust.
  3. Set the stage Where and when communication occurs can be as critical as what is said. Talking in quiet spaces makes communication easier. Ensuring the audience is relaxed and has the time to listen carefully improves information retention.
  4. Emphasize compassion The feeling with which messages are conveyed matter as much as the message.
  5. Keep promises LPNs who promise patients or colleagues that they will call or check in should do so as promised. Explain the situation if there’s a delay. In health care, trust is everything.

    Final Thoughts

    For an LPN, communication is fundamental to good nursing practice. It’s necessary to develop positive professional relationships with patients and to work cooperatively with fellow health care providers.

    While connecting with others comes more naturally to some than others, LPNs and what it means to patients who are worried their skills aren’t up to par should know that communication is a skill that can be developed over time. Ultimately, it’s only practice that makes communication skills perfect.

    Did learning about the importance of communication skills for LPNs interest you? Ready for an exciting new career in the health care field?

    The Practical Nursing certificate program provides the graduate with the knowledge, skills, and attitudes needed to function as a licensed practical nurse, or LPN.

    Part of the Practical Nursing training curriculum is devoted to theory and the rest to hands-on laboratory skills practice and off-site clinical externship rotations. These rotations include work at long-term care and rehabilitation facilities, hospitals, and childbearing and pediatric outpatient settings.

    Upon successful completion of NCLEX-PN, the National Council Licensure Examination, which is a nationwide examination for the licensing of nurses in the United States, the licensed practical nurse (LPN) works under the direction of a registered nurse or licensed physician in a variety of health care settings.

    Contact us today to find out more about how to become an LPN on Long Island.