March 4, 2024By Erin Carn Bennett

How to Use Communication Skills in a Clinical Simulation Debrief

An awareness of communication skills and the ability to hone these in the clinical simulation environment can be incredibly useful for the healthcare simulation debriefer. Communication skills link with other social-related skills, such as the cognitive presence of learners and emotional intelligence. Clinical simulation debriefers are often looked up to as role models in challenging conversations and are considered change agents. Therefore, clinical simulation debriefers are in a powerful position to refine and use communication skills to gain the best outcomes for all and inspire clinical and cultural changes. This article by Erin Carn-Bennett, RN, MSN, will explore communication skills that can be honed for use in the healthcare simulation-based education realm.

Communication Skills are an Essential Skill to Hone in Healthcare Simulation

Communication skills used effectively assist the debriefer to ensure the clinical simulation is learner-centered. The concepts of a psychologically safe educational environment as the foundation of a clinical simulation program are essential. A psychologically safe debrief environment allows clinical simulation participants to share and be vulnerable without fear of reprimand. The appropriate use of communication skills to guide the group’s conversation with skill will enable deep reflections and adaptations to practice. Communication skills encompass the act of talking, listening, empathizing, and the ability to make observations. With careful attention to communication skills, cognitive presence for the clinical simulation learner is more likely to be enabled.

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Cognitive presence is incredibly important in a clinical simulation debrief. Cognitive presence is described as the ability of learners to find meaning in their experiences via reflection. As clinical simulation debriefers, an awareness of the desire to inspire cognitive presence in learners is essential. Effective communication skills make cognitive presence in debriefing for learners more possible.

Open communication is always important in a healthcare simulation debrief. Open communication means respecting all points of view that are shared within the clinical simulation environment. The removal of assumptions and allowance of a safe space for healthcare workers to reflect on their practice and understand their own and the team’s behaviors is where the cognitive presence can happen in depth. Open communication creates a psychologically safe space in the healthcare simulation debrief for this to occur. Open communication is the permission of all topics and the respect of the individual in this vulnerable moment without shame or fear of any retribution. Open communication is where culture and clinical practices are challenged and refined.

View the LEARN CE/CME Platform Webinar Psychological Safety in Healthcare Simulation: Why It Matters Most to learn more!

Emotional Intelligence Links to Effective Communication Skills

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Emotional intelligence is a critical skill for clinical simulation debriefers to enable and use communication skills best. Emotional intelligence is the ability to have awareness of emotions of ourselves as well as of others. Emotional intelligence and communication skills do not always come naturally to everyone and for many there will be practice and awareness required to excel in this field. However, the skills that surround emotional intelligence can be acquired through a keen attitude to learn, reflection and adaptations to communication skills next time. Emotionally intelligent people are not perfect but reflect continually on their communication skills and want to improve and learn new skills.

Empathy as a Communication Skill

Empathy is an incredibly powerful skill to harness and utilize in all interactions in or out of the clinical simulation debrief circle. For healthcare workers, being truly empathetic to others is a superpower. To allow others to feel that those who surround them will walk alongside them and sit in their emotions rather than look down with sympathy and unintentional disempowerment is an incredibly powerful life skill. Empathy is linked with genuine curiosity and a lack of assumptions and judgment, key skills taught to clinical simulation debriefers. Empathy can be applied appropriately through close observation of clinical simulation participants. Observation and the process to notice behaviors and the consideration of how to respond is also a communication skill essential for debriefers.

Develop the Ability to Listen Skill

The ability to listen to participants in clinical simulation debriefing is one of the best gifts that can be given to a debriefer or facilitator. In most events in life, people want to be listened to, affirmed, and validated. Deep and skilled listening is essential as a clinical simulation debriefer. To achieve active listening, the debriefer must be fully present in the debriefing and not preoccupied with their responses to the participants or other concerns outside the simulation. Most people listen only to respond. However, listening to participants to allow them to reflect and process their performance will take the debrief of a clinical simulation to the next level. This is a fundamental communication skill, but many people, often even those in incredibly senior roles, can struggle with the ability to listen effectively.

To take turns listening as a clinical simulation debriefer is a skill that will allow participants to truly feel heard. The allowance of silence and pauses prior to engagement in conversations will allow clinical simulation participants to complete their reflections and to feel that their reflection has been completed. Trust in the learner to complete their reflection prior to a response enables more power in the facilitator/participant relationship.

Recognize Body Language to Accelerate the Debrief

Observation of body language to tailor communication skills to maximize impact is useful in the healthcare simulation debrief. For example, suppose a participant in a clinical simulation has a display of being closed off to interactions such as crossed arms and legs. In that case, this is valuable information for a debriefer. These body language displays indicate that an event has occurred in the clinical simulation or the conversation at hand is closed off to this participant. As a clinical simulation debriefer, the act of noticing this unconscious body language and tailoring the debrief as appropriate to give the best opportunity of resolve for this person is a key skill.

As a debriefer in clinical simulation, be aware of facial expression and the impact that this can have on participants’ ability to open up and be vulnerable. Suppose the debriefer has a harsh facial expression and/or crossed arms and legs. In that case, this unconscious body language shows the participants that there isn’t safety or vulnerability within this debrief circle. Intentional poses of arms by side, uncrossed legs, and soft facial expressions will encourage participants to safely participate in conversations in debriefing.

This article has discussed how to use communication skills to enhance a clinical simulation debrief. Topics discussed include cognitive presence, emotional intelligence, empathy, listening, and body language. Awareness of communication skills that can get the most out of a healthcare simulation debrief will take those in a debrief role to the next level. Awareness of often unconscious body actions as a faculty member and also of the participant group can assist in higher level educational outcomes and adapted clinical practice after the clinical simulation experience.

Learn More About How Clinical Simulation Helps Nursing Learners Strengthen Soft Skills!

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