How to Start a Conversation with a Patient and How to Keep It Going


Article Categories: Tips and Tricks & Activities of Daily Living



There's a lot of evidence that 'caring talks' may help patients express their feelings and share what’s on their minds. On the other hand, for nursing assistants like you, this is a huge opportunity to build trust and rapport with the patients. Caring talks convey sincerity and also allow you to reach out and help them with their concerns.

Starting a conversation is not always spontaneous for many people. Some patients are too shy to open up to the staff. They feel reluctant and hold back for many reasons. They may also be uncomfortable or too depressed to communicate. Sometimes, the hurdle lies in the CNA, too. Nursing assistants may be introverts who are mostly quiet and reserved themselves. For introverts, just the thought of talking to others is stressful.

Conversations between a CNA and their patient can be a real struggle. Here are some creative ways on how to “break the ice” and maximize the time between you and your patients:

1. Be brave.

As a CNA, if no conversation is happening, the effort to go first must come from you. For the patients that you will meet for the first time, it is important to introduce yourself. Smile to show that you are trying to establish a connection. Assure the patient that you are available if they need to talk to you.

2. Avoid being judgmental making assumptions.

The key to a meaningful interaction with the patient is to be free of biases and judgments that can affect how you treat them. Keep in mind that communication does not have to be verbal always. Even if you don’t directly say it, your facial expression, body language, and tone of voice will give you away.

Patients, especially those highly sensitive, will feel the negativity and will likely hesitate to talk with you. It’s best to be mentally prepared to accept patients for who they are and their beliefs and uniqueness.

3. Ask open questions.

Open questions will require the patient to give fuller answers. Unlike closed questions that patients typically answer by yes or no, or just a nod and head shake, open questions encourage the patient to share more.

Patients responding to open questions provide additional information that you can use to keep the conversation going. Ask how they are feeling, especially if they’re newly admitted.

4. Dig deeper.

To help you choose which questions are best to ask, observe their daily routines. With a little resourcefulness, you'll get to know their interests, preferences, and concerns. Ask about the patient’s favorite TV shows, their happy place, or childhood memories. These three are great sources of conversation starters that will keep the dialogue rolling.

Also, remember important details so that you can pick up from where you left off in your last conversation.

5. Send signals that you are there to listen.

Patients know that CNAs are always on their toes, and so they assume that their carers might be too tired to give them proper attention. Although CNAs are indeed busy bees, most are willing to listen and hold meaningful conversations.

Assure patients that you are interested in what they have to say. Tell the patient that they seemed bothered by something. Inform them that you could spare a few minutes to talk. Sit with the patient in a more private area because this reduces the feeling of being rushed.

You can approach them with this opening line, “You seem - (anxious, happy, sad, etc.) Do you have something you’d like to take about with me? I have 10 minutes before I check on the patient in the other room. What’s your concern/what’s on your mind?”

6. Say something positive about them.

One way to jumpstart a conversation is to mention some progress that they’ve made. Patients appreciate staff who pay attention and are keen on details. This shows that people who are tasked to care for them are more concerned with them than just their tasks.

Say something like, “You wore your special dress today.” This statement acknowledges the patient’s improvement without being overly enthusiastic.

Bear in mind that some patients will take a compliment negatively. They consider it as flattery or as an insincere or manipulative gesture. Recognizing something positive about the patient is better than dropping compliments.

Holding caring conversations is something that every CNA can do. It might be difficult at first, but with the right attitude and mindset and a sincere heart to help, you'll be able to reach out to your patients and create an impact in their life.

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