Speak More Assertively As a Nurse

If you deal with daily staff meetings and interactions with doctors and patients, you know just how important it is to speak assertively and get heard! But what exactly does “assertively” mean and how do you speak your mind without coming across as rude?

These are important questions, as communicating effectively — not to mention politely — is pivotal to your professional success as a nurse. The last thing you want to do is alienate other nurses (or patients!) with in-your-face boldness. And you definitely shouldn’t let doctors and other health care professionals walk all over you. As Mad Men’s Don Draper once said,

“…Keep it up, and even if you do get my job, you’ll never run this place. You’ll die in that corner office, a mid-level executive with a little bit of hair who women go home with out of pity. Want to know why? Cause no one will like you.”

And Draper’s advice is spot on; no one responds well to a bossy nurse and being rude is definitely not the way to win a promotion or respect. Remember, when asserting yourself or your ideas, your main goal should be to gain and give respect. How? We suggest focusing on confidence instead of assertiveness. You’ll find that a confidently presented idea or viewpoint will get you far and will garner you more respect in the long run.

Show Confidence

The best solutions come out of problems. Say you’re dealing with a particularly problematic patient who disagrees with his treatment plan. Instead of backing down and calling for the doctor, or losing your cool and yelling at the patient, take a step back. In order to communicate effectively, you must show confidence in yourself and what you are saying – especially in front of a patient who’s obviously concerned about their health. Look your patient in the eye and make eye contact – both when you are speaking and (even more importantly) while you’re listening to the patient.

Exhibit Leadership Qualities

Part of speaking in an assertive manner is demonstrating leadership skills. When you are assertive in a conversation, you are leading that conversation. But don’t use this as a time to be condescending. Steer clear of using big words (especially when you’re dealing with patients whose native language isn’t English) in an effort to deliberately impress people and try to avoid making others feel defensive. Think about your approach, delivery, and what you want as a result of your conversation.

Be Specific and Clear

Part of speaking to people is, well, speaking to people. To avoid miscommunication, speak clearly and stay on topic. If you are curious or need clarification about something, don’t hesitate to ask, ever. You never know when a patient’s life will be saved by you thinking to ask. If you are feeling frustrated by a fellow nurse’s point-of-view, in the interest of a win-win situation, try to look at the big picture and, if you must, excuse yourself from the conversation altogether. The quickest way to lose respect in the hospital is to let your emotions take over your professionalism. Being kind and courteous should always win out over your efforts to be right.

On that note…

Say Exactly What You Mean

No one likes to listen to someone drone on. Often, the more you say, the less is heard. Keep things specific, use facts, and be conversational — not confrontational.

Listen — REALLY Listen

When you’re talking, show other nurses and patients that you hear them and that you understand. Most times, people just want to be heard. Prefacing your comments with a rephrasing of their last statement will both put them at ease and make them more open to listening and understanding your stance and possible solution. This works wonders on patients!

Don’t Feel Guilty for Being Assertive

It’s more than okay to stand up for yourself, your ideas, and opinions. Being assertive is, in fact, very important when communicating with fellow staff members, patients and doctors. Practice, assess the situation and use confidence to emphasize rather than provoke. Remember, in the end, it’s respect you seek

This article was republished with permission from SCRUBS Magazine.


  1. Okay this nurse needs spellcheck!!
    It is:Confidence in what you are OR you’re saying.
    NOT:Confidence in what your saying.
    After that ignorance I stopped reading the article!

    • If you are going to correct someone’s grammar, let’s address punctuation also!
      [Okay, this nurse needs spellcheck!!
      It is, “ ,…confidence in what you are,…” OR “,…you’re saying,…”, NOT “,…confidence in what your saying.”]
      And, your assertive statement ended there. The last sentence was unnecessary.


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