By Keith Carlson, RN, BSN
“Confident Voices: The Nurse’s Guide to Improving Communication and Creating Positive Workplaces” was published in 2009 by Beth Boynton, RN, MS and edited by Bonnie Kerrick, RN, BSN.
In Confident Voices, Boynton strives to give nurses the understanding and skills to navigate the workplace in a way that fosters improved communication, healthier workplaces and a more supportive and safe environment for them and their colleagues. Boynton achieves her goal, and delivers information that is useful, well-organized, easy to digest, and potentially possible to put into practice immediately.
The book walks the reader through three distinct sections covering various topics of interest to the nurse who wishes to work in an environment that supports positive relationships and respectful communication.
Part I addresses workplace dynamics, and identifies the characteristics of toxic workplaces, and delves into theories that explain human behavior, especially in the context of the workplace. Organizational culture is explained and dissected, and workplace violence—be it physical, verbal or emotional—is also addressed.
Part II is focused on “building assertiveness and respectful listening skills” and explores “strategies for creating organizational cultures where effective communication and respectful relationships can thrive“.
Part III integrates the theories, insights and skills covered in Parts I and II in the context of nurses’ experiences which were gleaned from interviews with nurses in the field. Common toxic behaviors are described and various revisions of the encounters in question are offered as examples of improved communication and healthier outcomes for all involved.
Toxicity in the workplace is an important subject rarely given its due, and Boynton succeeds in communicating her mission clearly in this very useful book. We all know that the health care system is suffering from various forms of overload and dysfunction, and the result for nurses is that we often feel powerless in the face of old patriarchal systems of organization, entrenched methods of communication, and hierarchical relationships that apparently strip us of our power and leave us literally speechless in the face of workplace violence, bullying, top-down management, and organizational failure.
Boynton gives nurses concrete examples of common situations wherein nurses can practice their assertiveness and respectful communication skills. She also provides practical tools for nurses within a theoretical framework that takes into consideration the characteristics of toxic workplaces, the ways in which workplace violence impacts nurses, and how effective communication can cut through the static to a place of greater clarity, personal empowerment, and professional satisfaction.
In a future edition of “Confident Voices“, I would like to see the author make use of a more diverse selection of real-life scenarios in order to address potential gender and power issues that her examples fail to take into consideration.
The nurse interviews used in the book to illustrate Boynton’s thesis all feature female nurses who are interacting with male physicians in the hospital setting. While this gender dynamic may be common (and may be a deeply and culturally embedded knee-jerk reaction when we think of “nurse and doctor“) there are now a plethora of female physicians working alongside male nurses, and male nurses working alongside male physicians.
Additionally, it would be interesting to explore workplace dynamics when we consider male and female nurses working together, as well as combinations of male nurses alongside male nurses, and female nurses collaborating with female doctors. It could also be enlightening to explore the dynamics of workplace violence, bullying and communication when considering comparisons between male and female supervisors and administrators, and the ways in which gender differences impact communication in health care. Several books have been written about the effects of feminism on the nursing profession, most notably “Daring To Care: American Nurisng and Second-Wave Feminism” by Susan Gelfand Malka. Perhaps an exploration combining the effects of feminism on nursing and changes in communication would be an interesting follow up to “Confident Voices”.
Within “Confident Voices“, Boynton also does not address cultural, ethnic and racial differences in communication that could greatly impact nurses and those who work in health care institutions. Asians, Native Americans, Hispanics and other groups may have cultural practices and norms vis-a-vis communication that differ widely from white American culture. From eye contact to body language, communication in the workplace also needs to take these differences into consideration.
Overall, I would highly recommend “Confident Voices” to any nurse who wishes to improve his or her own communication skills, share those skills with colleagues, and attempt to understand organizational culture with an eye towards creating positive workplaces for all concerned.
On the Radio
Beth Boynton will be appearing as a guest on RN.FM Radio: Nursing Unleashed on March 12th, 2012 at 9pm EST. Please tune in and you will be able to call into the show and ask Beth questions about her work as a nurse, writer, and workplace communication expert.