Communication Tips – Use of Silence

Communication tips by Nursing on the Move.

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Verbal Encouragement– Use of Silence

Sometimes, silence can be used to facilitate conversation. Often, you can guess the patient’s reason for silence using clues from the context.  Short questions may help you determine the reason for the silence. Different responses are appropriate for different reasons for silence:

– For patients that are trying to organize their thoughts, a short question inviting them to continue can be helpful:

Can you tell me more about this?Communication for Professionals logo
What are you thinking about?

– For patients that are working through emotions associated with what was been said, it can be helpful to provide a sympathetic comment with a friendly, understanding and inviting tone, such as:

I have the impression that you find it difficult to tell more about this.

– For patients who have nothing more to say, the best answer can be to change the subject of discussion
– If you are not sure of the reason for silence, it can be best to ask an open question such as:


© Alamy

May I ask you, as this may be difficult: what makes it difficult for you?
Is there anything else you would like to tell me?

Silence can be powerful in verbal communication, but it can also become uncomfortable.

If you need to be silent for a period of time, let the patient know. You can make a comment explaining the silence, such as:

I just want to think over all you have been telling.

I first want to make some notes.

There can be a fine line between comfortable and uncomfortable silence.  To make sure everyone has time to process and think about what is being said, a good general rule is to wait at least three to five seconds before intervening or responding if there is a pause in conversation.

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Read this interesting article on “Lost in Clinical Translation” by Theresa Brown


Tip: More up to date educational events dealing with healthcare can be found online on the Education Database »medicine & health«.

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