Never miss important social cues again

Why “Never miss important social cues again”?

Are you missing social cues?
Missing social cues? — Image by

Following my previous post on How and when to say sorry (here), a fellow-blogger friend commented “I’m not guilt free and I try to apologize when I realize I’ve misstepped. Problematic for me with my lacking social skills is I am not always quick on the uptake to recognize a social faux paux.” Great timing Nikki — now I get to expand on the title of another post “Never miss important social cues again” stored like, forever, in my bulging draft folder.

What are social cues?

Social cues can be either verbal or nonverbal hints which can be positive or negative, (Wikipedia). These cues guide social and other interactions and let us know that the other person or a group is not interested in our conversation. These cues can tell us that someone feels offended by what we’ve said or perhaps they’re really excited by our explanation. Social cues can include:

Eye rolling — image by
  • facial expression — without a doubt, the most telling—and common—nonverbal means of communication is through facial expressions like eye rolling, downturned lips, flared nostrils, looking bored, showing disgust, fear, animosity or we might be smiling and showing approval. However, we’ve all seen a fake smile — that one that doesn’t reach the eyes 😉
  • body posture — is critical in making a strong impression. How we sit or stand is important in how we’re seen by others. Slouched or facing the floor might display indifference, uncertainty, or even weakness while, conversely back straight and head held high exudes confidence, assurance, and strength. However, we’ve all seen soldiers on parade – exuding confidence and assurance? when they’re actually terrified of their Sergeant screaming in their face.
  • speech isn’t just what we say, but also how we say it, using inflection, pitch, tempo (controlling speed of speech) and tone of voice to convey anger like shouting. Also included here might be huffs, puffs, tutting and heavy sighs. There isn’t a teenager, uh — anywhere who hasn’t done this.
  • proximity — how close or far away we are from a person. Someone might step back from us if they’re afraid or if they’re standing close or leaning in, it might be because they’re interested in what we’re saying. We all have our own ‘intimate space’ and we’re choosy who we let in there. Have you ever thought — “get out of my personal space!”
  • gestures — are used to communicate important messages, either in place of speech or together, in parallel with spoken words. Remember though, that gestures are culturally specific and can have very different meanings in different cultural or social settings. For instance, in Brazil, Germany, Russia, and many other countries around the world, the OK sign is a very offensive gesture because it is used to depict a private bodily orifice. So when it comes to gestures, the wisest advice might be to keep your fingers to yourself! (, 2013). In the UK, we all know someone who talks with their hands. Then there’s pointing or arms crossed looking impatient or hostile. There’s also the kids foot-stomping, which most of us have seen at some point.
  • body language – we shake our head, clench our fists, stare out the window, turn away from our speaker perhaps showing disinterest — say in school, university or meetings, and even with stroppy teenagers.
  • physiological changes are often the most associated with discomfort, shyness and anxiety, for example blushing, flushing, shaky hands or sweating are a giveaway that someone’s ill-at-ease. If you’ve ever had to give a presentation at work, you’re probably familiar with some of these social cues.

Nonverbal cues speak the loudest

In a previous post ‘How to improve your verbal communication skills’ (here), you may remember that a huge 65% of our communication skills are nonverbal.

Therefore, it’s not only important to be aware of what someone says, but we desperately need to be aware of how they say it too. The trick here is to remember — nonverbal (body language) cues actually speak the loudest.

This might appear odd because it seems glaringly obvious, but it isn’t, not to some. In fact, we’ve all missed cues at some point. For example, in the midst of an argument we probably missed the process of what’s going on around us and stormed ahead no matter the other person’s response. We’ve not registered their shock, surprise, horror or utter silence. We’ve missed their cues to either pull back or stop.

Nonverbal cues occur instinctively

Now we understand that body language is the use of expressions, proximity, mannerisms, physical behaviour to communicate nonverbally, did you know:

The faces of Trump — Image by
  • nonverbal communication occurs instinctively rather than consciously (but it can be learnt)
  • that whether you’re aware of it or not, when we interact with others, we continuously give and receive wordless cues
  • these messages don’t stop when we stop talking either
  • even if we’re silent, we’re still communicating nonverbally

All of our subconscious nonverbal actions send powerful messages to others, which can build trust, put people at ease and draw them to us, or we might confuse, offend and undermine what it is we want to convey.

In the absence of reliable information about a person, all we really have is the nonverbal cues which offer a look into their likely behaviours or actions.

Social and nonverbal cues in action

For example, at work in my role as a mental health nurse, our Rapid Response Team (RRT – a team of around 6-8 mainly large male nurses who would attend to a ward when they had an aggressive or violent patient) instinctively all stood tall, heads back and arms crossed, staring at the said patient.

Unfortunately, our RRT’s nonverbal communication was intimidating to the patients at best and threatening or provoking at worst. The patient didn’t know these men — with their threatening body language — or that they were there to help — so it didn’t inspire trust in the patient. In fact it often made the patient want to lash out, either in fear or sometimes in defiance. Staff were missing social cues these presented by the patient.

Control & Restraint relaxed posture

Therefore the RRT first had to be made aware of their how their nonverbal communication appeared. This was done during the debriefing meetings following an incident where it was fed back that their posture was inappropriate and unacceptable.

Secondly, the Control & Restraint Department (responsible for the RRT’s training) was informed of how this practice was coming across on the wards. Staff went on refresher courses where they carried out mock incidents, using a more relaxed posture when approaching patients.

Effective nonverbal communication can be learnt

Okay, so while it’s said that nonverbal communication is spontaneous and generally can’t be faked — it can be taught and learnt, as above.

To enable us to develop and maintain successful/good relationships, it’s not only crucial that we have good speaking skills, but also a clear understanding of the nonverbal cues that accompany conversation. It goes without saying that we need to be aware of how we ourselves come across to others.

Having an awareness or even a control of your own nonverbal communication could prove advantageous in a business or work environment and certainly if you’re working with the public. This awareness is definitely beneficial if you have difficulties within your personal and family relationships.

If you’re worried you’re missing social cues, ask someone you trust and respect to give you honest constructive feedback on whether you’ve been able to read their nonverbal hints appropriately.

Non-verbal communication in film

Watch films or tv programmes, paying particular interest in the nonverbal communication that occurs between two people or groups of people. See which of the above and how many cues you can identify.

Notice how they express friendliness and positivity by maintaining an open posture. See how they stand with their legs hip-distance apart and keep their torso exposed as opposed to covered with crossed arms, keeping their head raised and relaxing their facial expression.

Being aware of nonverbal communication

If you recognize that a colleague, friend or family member you’re speaking to has a case of the jitters and they’re struggling to make themselves clear, try to make them feel at ease. Let them have some time and don’t interrupt until after they’ve finished speaking.

If someone’s raising their voice at you, take a step back and with your arms out, palms down and say calmly, quietly and firmly, “Please, don’t raise your voice to me.”

You could go on further “I can’t hear” or “I can’t understand what you’re saying when you’re shouting at me.” When they do stop shouting, and they will — they’ll be shocked by your actions — you can ask them to repeat what they were saying.

If someone does continue to shout or rant, repeat the nonverbal cues and tell them – you are going to walk away (and do it, whether it’s to another room, the bathroom).

Don’t be afraid of asserting yourself, calmy, quietly and firmly to say “You’re scaring me.”, “It makes me feel ………… when you shout at me.” No one can argue with your feelings; their yours and you own them.

Watch out for the other person’s nonverbal cues to gauge the situation. This will give you clues as to whether they want to continue in this vein or whether they’re calming down, willing to listen to you.

If you’re still struggling with communications skills, these posts might help:

In the meantime, I’m happy to answer any questions and I’m interested in your thoughts on nonverbal communication skills. Is there anything I’ve missed?

When and how do I say sorry?

You ever had that “Ah! When and how do I say sorry” moment?

Bad day at the office — image by

We’ve all had a bad day at the office, on the shop floor or the ward, sometimes with the kids or the family, or that insensitive friend, when we just want to take someone’s head off their shoulders. Yes?

I’m guessing you didn’t literally take anyone’s head off, but maybe you raised your voice, hurled some insults, gave some dirty looks, tuts and sighs? Perhaps you stomped around, bashed your laptop shut, slammed a few drawers or doors for effect? Once you’d taken a few deep breaths, had a cup of tea or a glass of wine, slumped into your car seat or relaxed in a warm bath, you calmed down.

Then it’s Ah! When and how do I say sorry? Let’s find out more:

Insincere or unnecessary apologising

The Guardian (2019) said “In Britain, we over-apologise out of politeness.” and we do. It comes easily. But some apologies are totally unnecessary and often insincere i.e. we say sorry when someone bumps into us or we say to our waiter “I’m sorry, but my food is cold.” We call work and say “I’m sorry, but I don’t feel well.”

Constant apologies, particularly at work might undermine someone’s confidence in you; in a meeting you say “Sorry, I’d like to interrupt you.” Why apologise? Or when you have to deliver an important but boring directive to your team i.e. “Sorry, but we have to complete audits by……….” Just tell them the message “We have the annual audits to be completed by…….”, which sounds way more confident and you needn’t be sorry about directives from someone or somewhere else.

“I’m sorry” are only just words —

Some people just apologise to relieve their own guilt or shame at the way they behaved and are not necessarily genuinely upset by the hurt they caused the other party. Others might apologise to escape punishment like someone in court hoping to get a lesser penalty.

Even our politicians and world leaders apologies are carefully worded and often insincere. They’re seen only to be protecting their image rather than concern about their message.

A genuine apology

It’s generally more difficult to say sorry when you actually have something to apologise for. Psychology Today (2016) said “A genuine apology offered and accepted is one of the most profound interactions of civilized people. It has the power to restore damaged relationships, be they on a small scale, between two people, such as intimates, or on a grand scale, between groups of people, even nations. If done correctly, an apology can heal humiliation and generate forgiveness.”

When to say sorry

  • Immediately, if possible but at least at the earliest opportunity. It’s unfair on the other person or group of people and it only drags out your ensuing feelings of possibly anxiety or upset at causing hurt in someone you care about or respect.
  • When it’s your fault. Sometimes if you really have done something wrong, it truly needs an apology. And in those situations, by all means, take responsibility! Own it!
  • Evoking tears or other distress in others tells us that we’ve overstepped the boundaries of what’s acceptable to the injured party. If it’s a friend, someone else we care about or respect, we don’t want to alienate them, lose their friendship, end the relationship or lose respect at work. We know we have to come up with some kind of apology to repair the damage and get the unpleasant matter behind us all.

I think we’re all aware how maddening it is, not to get an apology from someone who’s hurt us.

How to say sorry

How to improve your communication
— image by new-edu resources
  • Show genuine remorse over your actions by, and this is important, telling them first “I apologise” or I’m sorry”.
  • Genuinely and freely, not waiting to be asked; recognising the damage/hurt you’ve caused. You might say something like “I’m really sorry I said/did that. I can see how hurt/upset you are.” or “I apologise for hurting your feelings and I want to fix this.”
  • Show and sound like you mean it – your body movement, your eyes, your hands, your tone of voice. You need to show the other person that you really do understand and care about their feelings and their experience of what happened. Ask them their take on the situation and how it made them feel.
  • Take responsibility for your words, actions or behaviour – admit that you were rude, wrong, ignorant or downright spiteful
  • Repair the damage – make amends. Tell them how you’re going to fix things “I’ve heard and understand what you’ve said and I’ll make changes for the future.” Ask how them how to, if necessary “What can I do to make it right/better/change things?”
  • Promise that it won’t happen again and you need to keep this promise. The definition of a promise “a declaration that one will do or refrain from doing something specified.” Make the promise concrete and you’re sure you can commit to the action or expectation.

How not to say sorry

Meredith Walters
  • “I’ve already said sorry.” or “You know I’m sorry.” or “My dad said I had to say sorry, so……….” These kinds of apologies just cheapen whatever follows and if someone tells you to apologise, you’re giving their apology, not yours.
  • Don’t make excuses for your behaviour/words – “I was only trying to tell you…….”
  • Don’t try to justify your words/behaviours – “I was just trying to help you.” and “I was just playing devil’s advocate.” “I was just joking.” You’re trying to tell them that how they felt wasn’t important cos ‘it was just for fun.’ Really? Because, it obviously wasn’t fun for the hurt person.
  • Don’t use the “you know” kind of apologies like “Oh you know I’m like a bull in a china shop.” or “you know I forget sometimes.” You’re trying to belittle their hurt or their experience as though they shouldn’t be upset.
  • The same goes for “I Know” apologies like “Yeah, I know I shouldn’t have……” It’s like “Well, why did you then?” and you’re not really owning up to the damage you’ve caused to the other person.
  • Bullying apologies are dreadful too, like “Okay, I get it – sorry!” and “Drop it now, it’s done – sorry!” or “Sorrrry – duh!” with the eyeroll.
Any questions?image by

I’m sure there are many more ways to apologise or ways of how not to apologise. I hope some of these points help and I’m open to more suggestions or your comments. What was the last insincere apology you gave or received?

You might find the following posts useful too:

I loved mental health nursing – then I got sick

Pre mental health nursing

On the road to recovery — image by Eric Johansson

You can read the backstory About Me to give you an understanding of how I got to here………. how I loved mental health nursing – then I got sick

I was on the road to recovery from my own mental illness when I realised I wanted to study. I wasn’t sure I was clever enough and I wasn’t sure what I actually wanted to study.

Studying massage part-time

I thought I’d start small so took evening and weekend courses in Shiatsu,  followed by Swedish Massage, Seated Massage, Aromatherapy and finally, Indian Head Massage. I loved it and so too did my family and friends, who I practised on.

Seated massage — image Anon

I had the massage table, the massage chair, the fluffy white towels and a full kit of aromatherapy oils. However, despite passing all my exams with distinction, I couldn’t ask for money. I just loved providing massage, but I realised it would never be a paid job.

Studying to become a mental health nurse

In February 1997 I’d seen a large advert looking for General Nurses to study at my local University and Hospital. This didn’t so much interest me but, right at the bottom of this ad, there was a few lines about becoming a Mental Health Nurse. It just felt so right and I knew my own experience of mental illness would help to make me a good nurse.

So, during my own recovery from, what I learnt was, a lengthy psychotic episode, depression, anxiety and anorexia (which you can read here), I applied to train as a Mental Health Nurse.

On becoming a mental health nurse

After three long years of study, I worked successfully as a Mental Health Nurse in various settings before eventually becoming a Ward Manager. I was already working more than double my previous hours but now earning half the salary but I didn’t care — I’d found my purpose, my reason to get out of bed.

However, despite being a qualified MH nurse, I still felt that I just didn’t know enough, that I was a fake and I’d soon be found out. This drove me to attend further specialist courses including the one-year Thorn Nursing programme which taught nursing interventions for schizophrenia and a Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) course for psychosis.

Outside of the NHS, I also trained to become a Mental Health First Aid (MHFA England) Instructor, a Mental Health Awareness Trainer, Mental Health First Aid Youth and Mental Health Armed Forces Instructor.

Working in various mental health settings

I was enjoying every aspect of my job and had the honour of working with some amazing people; patients, families and their carers, together with colleagues from lots of different disciplines. I spent time working in the community, visiting patients in their own homes and seeing how they lived when they were ill and well.

Control & Restraint of a patient — image by

I worked on various acute in-patient mental health wards where patients could be extremely unwell, distressed, chaotic, occasionally angry and aggressive towards staff and others. Unfortunately some had to be restrained for the safety of both patient and others. Whilst it can look quite alarming, nurses tend to take the brunt of the drops to the floor, ensuring patient safety at all times. Our patients were acutely unwell, experiencing:

  • panic attacks, depression and/or anxiety disorders as well as obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), borderline personality disorder (BPD) and post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  • severe mental illnesses like schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and schizoaffective disorders

Acting as ward manager for three years with the elderly was definitely an experience but it wasn’t always easy as many patients had both mental and physical illnesses. The lack of family or visitors on this ward saddened me and of course, often patients had to be transferred to general wards, where sometimes they’d pass away – which always broke my heart.

I’d worked in A&E which was fast-paced and never a boring moment; working with disturbed patients, the Police, distressed families and community colleagues. Then with the Home Treatment Team (HTT) and in the Mental Health Emergency Department where we’d see patients in various stages of illness who needed support, perhaps admission or to go home with the HTT.

Duty Senior Nurse

From Band 6 (Charge Nurse) upwards you’re on the rota to carry out two shifts a week as Duty Senior Nurse (DSN), which could be early, late or night shift and you have responsibility for the whole mental health hospital.

Police driving mental health patients
to hospital — image by

Despite The Mental Health Code of Practice saying a patient in crisis should only ever be transferred to hospital by an NHS vehicle, quite often an extremely psychotic and aggressive patient arrived in a police van, in handcuffs. It was always great when the patient recognised you, calmed down and agreed to walk in with you, rather than being practically dragged in by the police.

Unfortunately I’ve been on DSN shift when the police come to tell you bad news such as they’d found a body somewhere, it would be one of our missing patients. Or they came to ask you to identify a missing patient who had died by suicide. Once they came to tell me of a double suicide and I was raced off to the scene to identify the patients.

Favourite mental health settings

One of my favourite places was the Day Hospital (despite a bully of a manager), where we saw up to seventy patients each day, who all came to attend various therapies and activities. This was part of their recovery and they might been referred from an in-patient ward in preparation for their discharge.

I loved being able to use all the knowledge and skills I’d gained together with my own personal experiences to support our patients. Part of my role was training less senior staff from both the day hospital and the ward, something I got a lot of satisfaction from. And of course, I enjoyed the positive feedback.

Another favourite and sadly my last post was as ward manager on an all female acute in-patient ward. It was an absolute nightmare when I first arrived, the ward was in chaos! It was initially managed by three male staff, the ward manager and two Band 6 nurses. The patients had previously been allowed to yell and swear at staff; they’d tried to attack them, thrown dining table and chairs around and generally behaving badly.

NHS Staff Id

Some of the nurses were said to be worried about my arrival and chose to transfer to other wards, which saved me the job of managing them on the Capability programme. Some had attitude problems and didn’t like that I’d adhere to Company policies regarding the Trust Dress Code; no inch long nails, no big dangly earrings, wearing id, their inappropriate dress like tight leggings and vest type tops. If I hadn’t already known the staff, I would have wondered who were nurses and who were patients.

My Personnel Management skills came in handy as I was well aware of the need to know company policies and procedures. I was able to use them to guide me through how to manage patients abusing our staff and the ward. During my first year our team was able to reduce the number of violent incidents on the ward by 74%, something we were all very proud of and actually gained recognition for it.

We were to present our ‘work’ at Head Office, after which I was asked to present it to all Ward Managers within the Trust. I was so excited and even more so when our Nursing Director suggested that in the future, I become more involved in training staff from Band 4 – 7.

The onset of my physical illness

Within days of that presentation I was struck down with a rare disorder – idiopathic (cause unknown) Transverse Myelitis (TM), which is normally caused by a virus but, despite the hundreds of tests, mine wasn’t, hence the idiopathic.

What Transverse Myelitis looks like — painful, huh?

According to, TM is an inflammation of both sides of one section of the spinal cord. This neurological disorder often damages the insulating material covering nerve cell fibers (myelin).

TM interrupts the messages that the spinal cord nerves send throughout the body. This can cause pain, muscle weakness, paralysis, sensory problems, or bladder and bowel dysfunction.

Due to my physical disability and ongoing mental health problems I am no longer able to work in the job I loved and even after nine years I still miss it terribly.

I became physically disabled overnight and though the NHS paid full salary for six months and half salary for six months, they still ought to have kept my job open. However, they needed a Ward Manager and after around nine months they replaced me.

Medical retirement

It was then that the snotty young HR dogsbody decided that medical retirement was the best option. I was devastated at losing the job I loved but I was too exhausted both physically and mentally to fight — in hindsight, I wished I taken them to a tribunal — just to wipe the smirk of the HR dogsbody’s face. You know that look, when someone thinks they got one over you, which she did in this case.

I often reflect on some of the most amazing and inspiring patients, remembering some of their journeys and the extremely difficult changes they made on their personal road to recovery. I’ll never forget how humbling it was working in mental health — and I like to think I made a difference during the course of my nursing career.

Maya Angelou

As mental health nurses, we see people at their lowest point, emotionally, which makes us very significant, not only in their survival, but also their growth. Along the way, sometimes our lives are even changed because we feel their struggle, so it sharpens our emotions as well as our skills, and sometimes in rare cases, it can touch our lives as well — Anon

I hope this might help and inspire both students and nurses alike — aim high and be the best nurse you can be.

Massive apologies to you all

I’m sorry, please forgive me

Image by
Studies Blog

I went off on holiday to Spain and so wanted to keep in touch with you all — until I got sick, again (for over a week). I couldn’t even sit up to read or to make comments on all your posts.

After that, we had to move homes as our friend’s (Charlie) massive and extended family were all arriving for his birthday celebrations in a few days time. We went to stay at another mutual friend’s villa and I soon realised that he had no wifi so I couldn’t use my laptop – oh boy, did I need it!

Backstabbing and bitching

It turns out that none of the extended family groups liked each other so they all bitched constantly behind each other’s backs – but not in front of Charlie, so he wasn’t aware.

During one of Charlie’s intro parties, I’d made food which his kids and grown up grandkids devoured with their fingers, dipping stuff into various sauces when there was shouts of “Oi, don’t f*cking double dip – that’s f*cking disgusting you stupid cow” and from someone else, there was “Yuck, triple dipping – what you f*cking doing?” Interspersed with several bitch and C words. Nothing to do with us, but it was late and we left them all to it anyway.

Ever pinched a chip from someone?

Next day, at a restaurant, I made the terrible mistake of trying to pinch a chip from a young lad’s plate (the boyfriend of one of Charlie’s granddaughters) but sadly and shockingly it quickly spiralled out of control.

He screamed “Don’t f*cking do that you f*cking stupid bitch?” then stabbed at the chip viciously with his fork and shoved it in his mouth. He shouted “Why did you f*cking do that? You’re f*cking disgusting” so aggressively that it made me jump and had the whole restaurant staring at our table in disbelief.

More apologies

I quickly apologised and said I’d never do it again when his girlfriend joined in with even worse expletives. I apologised yet again and, as we were by the door, I left the restaurant feeling embarrassed. My hubby followed quickly and said “That’s it, we’re going.” Although I knew I’d overstepped the mark, I was still upset by the ensuing outrage.

I was also furious because I had forsaken my best friend’s mum’s funeral to attend Charlie’s celebrations – obviously I’d booked the holiday before I knew about the funeral date.

During all this, I’d had a severe toothache caused by a Spanish dentist filling a gaping hole in my tooth without taking any x-rays. I’d had an abscess which then needed antibiotics for five days before I could have any further work done. With a new dentist, full x-rays and my tooth now removed, I felt a bit tender but relieved of the agony so decided I wanted to fly back to the UK, miss Charlie’s party and attend the funeral – as I should have done in the first place.

I have no affiliation with British Airways
Image by

However, I had no wifi. I had to call a friend, in tears, and she managed to book me a last minute flight to London for Friday. Although I felt really bad for Charlie, I just couldn’t spend any more time with the trailer trash extended families.

I am so glad that I chose to fly home and that I did attend the funeral to support my bestie. It was a beautiful service and a warm sunny day where we celebrated Marion’s life and said our goodbyes. Lots of family and friends that I hadn’t seen in years returned to my bestie’s home to continue sharing fond memories and funny stories about and with Marion.

Though I was considering going back to Alicante, I’ve heard that the coronavirus is there so I need to check out any risks first. If I can’t get back into Alicante, it means my hubby’s can’t get out 😦

So, with all that behind me and regardless of whether I return to Spain, please accept my apologies once again and I’ll be reading all your latest posts as soon as I can.

Professional jealousy in mental health nursing management

Three failed interviews

It was soon to be my leaving party from the Elderly Mental Health ward that I’d been working on as ‘Acting’ Manager for almost three fantastic years. I’d initially been asked by our Nursing Director to take this post, with a view to making it permanent following the interview process.

However, the Modern Matron, an ineffective, immature and spiteful battle-axe decided otherwise. After three failed interviews, where she asked the most ridiculously loaded questions i.e.

“What problems would I have if I was to become your Manager in the future?”

Infection control and poor personal
hygiene — image from
  • Did Ugly (her nature, not her appearance) Betty really want to know that she was a laughing stock round the whole Mental Health Unit who, despite her unwashed hair and grubby fingernails, constantly banged on about her role as “Infection Control trainer” or her high expectations of both staff and patients’ personal hygiene?
  • Did she really want me to tell her how I struggled with her stinking attitude; deliberately sitting in ‘my’ chair in ‘my’ office demanding I sign off letters to staff that she’d written — very badly? She wrote just as she spoke – with an Irish accent (which I love incidentally) and I don’t think she knew what good grammar or punctuation was. Don’t even get me started on her knowledge in letter writing format – or lack of it – her letters ended with her signature about a third of the way down an A4 page!
  • Was I to explain in front of her same-level colleagues on the interview panel that I wasn’t keen on her stealing all my ideas about changes to the ward, passing off my work as her own in Senior Management meetings? Or that she yelled and swore at me for writing an article for the Trust Magazine ‘without her consent’ — when the Chief Executive actually asked me to write about my plans and dreams for my new post?
  • I could have mentioned that she didn’t have to keep reminding anyone and everyone “She’s only an Acting Manager as she hasn’t been successful in her application for the Manager’s post yet.”
  • I might even have told her that her unhealthy (dis)interest in some of my awards, one of which I received after six months of starting my nursing career for Most Excellent Newcomer of the Year, when she told me three years later “That’s a wee bit old, is it not? You might want to stick that on a shelf at home.” Or the disregard towards my qualifications, knowledge and skills that she didn’t possess, saying “Oh, ye’ll not need them on this here ward, you’ll not. A wee bit waste of time, don’t ye think?”
  • Should I have told her that actually, the problems she’d have being my manager would be endless?

I gave up!

After Ugly Betty delighted in phoning to tell me “How sh*t my interview was” and “I don’t think I’ve ever interviewed such a bad candidate, ye know,” or “What happened to you in there? You talked absolute Sh*te,” I returned to my previous post as Assistant Manager on my old Acute in-patient Mental Health Ward.

Back to the leaving party

Anyway, I digress — back to the party, where Ugly Betty showed her face. Thankfully just long enough to take a nosy peek at my home (which was hygienically spotless) and to find out who else had turned up.

Her face was a picture when she saw the endless groups of our multidisciplinary colleagues which included all the Ward Consultants, Doctors, Occupational Therapists, Psychologists and Nurses, together with staff from our Community Teams and several from other professional agencies — who’d come to wish me well. She did manage a grimace and a “Who invited this lot? They’ve only come for the free drinks, ye know.”

Her disparaging glimpse at all the ‘Sorry to see you go’ cards, letters, flowers and gifts from colleagues, patients, carers and families — said a lot. She didn’t like me and it showed.

Professional jealousy in mental health nursing

Perhaps some of my colleagues at the party did recognise my contribution to the Team Awards we won over the years or the improved standards of care and nursing? But her parting shot as I walked her to my front door was “It’s a shame you know. You and I could of made such a good team.”

I smiled cheerily “I know. We could have.” Ha, if only she’d been a better Manager; less demeaning and controlling, more accepting and willing to see others as co-workers who were all working together to achieve a common goal.

You see, professional jealousy, particularly in mental health nursing, is a terrible thing. It’s like a death knell to a pleasant, professional and healthy work environment. It appeared to me that there was some underlying jealousy in many Mental Health Nurse Managers who lacked confidence in themselves, their skills or knowledge. Instead of embracing their ‘underlings’ or colleagues’ contributions to the team, they undermined them and didn’t care to acknowledge their worth.

Transforming Good Managers into
Great Leaders –

Good managers lead their teams to great things. They help their staff develop and become the best that they can be. I wanted our assistant managers to know everything I knew because eventually, one of them would be taking my place or be applying for other management posts — and get them — because of their excellent knowledge and skills base.

Good Managers should welcome and embrace both the professional and personal experience, knowledge and skills that each staff member brings to their teams — they can make you and your team look great, under your leadership! But, don’t ever forget to give them credit where it’s due.

Person thinking —

Just think — if Modern Matrons could transform themselves and their Managers from good to great leaders, what kind of impact would that have on our wonderful NHS, our Mental Health wards, our staff, our patients, their families and carers?

Any other thoughts on what Ugly Betty could have done differently?

You may also be interested in 10 attributes of a good mental health nurse here

How to improve your verbal communication skills?

Do you struggle with verbal communication skills? I used to.

My previous lack of verbal communication skills

How to talk to someone

I was terribly shy in my teens and if I met someone new I’d blush bright red. I’d become anxious, start to panic and feel faint. That made me feel even less confident in making conversation and my silences might have made me appear rude. I never knew what to say as an introduction and if asked a question I couldn’t think of a bright, intelligent or funny and appropriate response. Job interviews were a nightmare as I giggled nervously (hysterically) throughout.

However, after fifteen years in Human Resource Management and fifteen more in mental health nursing and management, my confidence in verbal communication skills grew.

In a recent post we looked at good Listening Skills and today, we’ll address verbal communication skills.

What is verbal communication skills?

The ability to convey or share ideas and feelings effectively during conversation; to be able to talk and be understood. Therefore developing good verbal communication skills is necessary for both our personal and work life. By gaining these skills, we are much better equipped to connect with our friends, families, colleagues and even our boss.

4 main types of verbal communication skills

NHS Leadership Academy’s 1st annual
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  1. Public Communication is normally where one person holds the stage, addressing larger groups of people i.e. Annual conferences or election campaigns.
  2. Small-Group Communication takes place when there are more than two people – where everyone participates and interacts with the others in the group i.e. team meeting or group therapy.
  3. Intrapersonal Communication is private and restricted to yourself, like talking to yourself, practising conversations you might have later on with i.e. your partner; planning who’ll say what.
  4. Interpersonal Communication takes place between two people like a one-to-one chat between nurse and patient or you and your boss, in order to communicate your needs or any actions required.

For now we’re going to address Interpersonal Communication; a one-to-one chat or simply a conversation between two people, as that’s what occurs most often for us, like talking to the cashier in your local shop or a neighbour.

The importance of verbal communication skills

Would you believe that approximately 65% of our communication is nonverbal?

However, while only 35% of our communication is verbal (conversation), it is still the basis of all communication so we mustn’t neglect its importance.

The classic words of John Donne in 1624 ‘No man is an island’ roughly translated means no one is truly self-sufficient, we all must rely on the company and closeness of others in order to grow. And okay, while you may know of a recluse who functions solely alone, the rest of us generally have to be around people; working and living in harmony, ‘fitting in’ and communicating with others.

I think that one of the best ways to fit in, engage with new people and build good relationships is via a two-way conversation. Developing rapport, which sometimes happens naturally, is essential and one of the first steps to relationship building. You can start building rapport by finding common ground or creating shared experiences with the other person.

From my professional experience, I know that nurses are expected to display empathy, compassion, kindness, genuineness (being authentic), self-awareness and a non-judgemental attitude when building relationships with patients.

However, these skills are easily transferable to all areas of work and personal life and can quickly be achieved by non-professionals. If you can be authentic, warm, open and friendly you’ll be able to verbally communicate with just about anyone.

Socratic Questioning skills you might find useful

Another achievable verbal communication skill (ought to be used by nurses) is displaying a quiet curiosity; asking gentle probing questions. This technique is called Socratic Questioning (469 BC–399 BC), a form of cooperative, argumentative dialogue between individuals, based on asking and answering questions to stimulate critical thinking (Wikipedia). Being curious, acting a little bit dumb and getting people to think of the answers to their questions or problems for themselves.

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  • Questions for clarification — Perhaps in response to someone crying, “I know he’s cheating on me.” You’d question “Why do you say that?
  • Questions that probe assumptions — In response to a friend saying “He’s out late, he must be cheating.” You might ask “What could we assume instead?” or “You seem to be assuming.”
  • Socratic questions that probe reasons and evidence — In response to a person saying “You’re always letting me down.” You could ask “What would be an example?” or “Tell me on how many occasions I’ve done that.” or “When did I last do that?
  • Questions about viewpoints and perspectives — Replying to someone saying “I’m not going back into hospital, I hate it” You could ask “What would be an alternative?” or “What would your Care Team think about that?”
  • Questions that probe implications and consequences — In response to a friend explaining “The staff are a bit………, you know…. so I can’t go back into hospital.” You could gently probe, “What are you implying? What will happen if you don’t go back?
  • Questions about the question — Perhaps in response to a patient/friend saying “I’m so miserable all the time, do you think they’re all fed up with me.” You might respond “How would somebody else/ you mum/ your answer this question? And “Why?” or “Why is this issue important?

Potential pitfalls during conversation we need to be aware of:

Unfortunately, in our busy worlds, at work, with families and children, technology all around us and distractions such as loud noises and an array of visual diversions, it’s no wonder we make the following errors.

Excellent communication skills —
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  1. Sometimes we talk too much, often waffling or filling space. We feel we need to fill the silence with chatter — we don’t! It’s okay to have 10-15 seconds of silence, just relax and sit with it. This will give you the time to think about what you’re going to say next.
  2. We’re often unable to put our ideas across so that the other person understands – take a breath, exhale slowly then inhale just as slowly and start again. Don’t be afraid to say something like “I’m not sure how to explain this so it makes sense, but I’ll give it a go.” One instance maybe if the other person does not speak the same language and we can’t get our point across. However, we may be able to resort to some sort of non-verbal communication.
  3. We resort to jargon/colloquialism/slang – jargon occurs a lot with doctors, nurses and scientists. The medical/nursing field also use acronyms like ECG, ECT and CBT which can confuse, embarrass and alienate people who are unfamiliar with our medical/scientific/nursing terms. Colloquialisms come in where people speak with local words and phrases which can leave other people out of conversations. Computer language and the technical side of WordPress are completely lost on me – I need plain and simple messages here.
  4. We don’t think before we speak, we just dive straight in. When your words are negative, demeaning, harsh or inconsiderate you may be seen as a miserable, angry and mean spirited person who sees only the bad and not the good in life or people. Take a breath and a couple of seconds to think about what you’re going to say. You are what you say — your words hint at your thoughts, values and beliefs and saying the wrong thing at the wrong time might hurt or anger others.
  5. We don’t talk enough; If you’re unsure what the other person is talking about, ask them to repeat or rephrase it or tell them you don’t understand what they’ve just said. Most people don’t actually mind – they get the opportunity to hear themselves speak again….. If you’re short on things to say, try bringing up topics that you enjoy and are somewhat knowledgeable about. Open up and say what you think, share how you feel or share one of your own experiences i.e. if the other person tells you about their golf trip that weekend and you know nothing about golf, you could say “Ah, yes, the weather was good wasn’t it. We took advantage of it and went fishing/paddling in rock pools,” — don’t just stand there nodding and smiling.
  6. Going off on a tangent (and not being able to get back on track). Apologise and stop for a second. Tell them “Ooops, I’ve gone off track, what was I/you saying?”
  7. Being unable to give the other person the information they need to join in the conversation or to respond i.e. by giving yes or no or even one-word answers, you’re not inviting the other person to respond. Try to expand on a ‘yes‘ when asked something like “Do you work for Smith & Smyths?” You could say “Yes, I work in the post room and I’ve been there for almost a year now. What about you?”
  8. Not listening enough. Ernest Hemingway once said: “I like to listen. I have learned a great deal from listening carefully. Most people never listen.” Don’t be like most people. Actively listen and don’t just wait impatiently for your turn to speak. When you listen, you might find something of interest that you can discuss further — when it’s your turn to speak.
How to improve your communication
skills — image by

Whatever you are doing, the way you use your verbal communication skills, sets the emotional tone for any future relationships. Just think; chatting with a new person might lead to a great friendship, a brilliant new partner, a friendly colleague or an amazing business lead.

Do you recognise any of the pitfalls in verbal communication? Anyone got any hints or tips for effective verbal communication with new people? I really enjoy reading about your experiences.

Blogger recognition award

Thank you Ang, I’m really happy that you nominated me for this award. It’s come at a great time as I am supposed to be on holiday (in sunny Spain) but I’m too sick to enjoy it properly 😦 Hopefully, now that I’m up, I can read through everyone’s blogs.

Blogger Recognition Award

The Blogger Recognition Award is an online award given by bloggers to other bloggers as a way of recognizing the efforts they put into their site. I was nominated by Ang @ Mama Coffee Chat in Canada. Ang has a great fun-filled blog about her life, family and tales of her little baby girl together with posting yummy recipes and her poetry. Be sure to check it out! In the meantime.

Rules for the Blogger Recognition Award:

  • Thank the blogger who nominated you and add a link to their blog
  • Write a blog post on your site displaying the award
  • Describe why you started your blog
  • Write two pieces of advice for the new bloggers
  • Nominate and notify 11-15 other bloggers

Why I Started This Blog:

My passion is for all things mental health, both personally and professionally. Following my own breakdown and recovery from a lengthy period of anxiety, panic attacks, anorexia and a psychotic depression, I decided to train as a mental health nurse. I worked successfully within many mental health settings and continued to study various nursing interventions over the next ten years, before becoming a Mental Health Ward Manager.

National Health Service UK

I’d loved to have continued to be involved in training and educating mental health nurses and students within the National Health Service (NHS) Mental Health Trust I trained with and worked for.

However, as I was about to begin this new adventure within that same Trust, I became physically disabled at the age of fifty and was medically retired. It took me years to come to terms with not being able to do the job I loved. It’s also taken me years to decide I need to do something meaningful with my time and decided to blog about my passion.

Life is difficult enough for most of us, what with the trials and tribulations of daily living, but it never ceases to amaze me how people cope with mental illness. They’ve often felt discouraged, stigmatised and have isolated themselves from family or friends. They’ve struggled to fit in or to find meaningful work and have often been admitted to our awful mental health hospital under duress.

I hope my blog brings comfort to someone who needs it and perhaps students and/or mental health nurses might pick up some useful tips to add to their own nursing toolbox to use in their own practice.

Two Pieces Of Advice For New Bloggers:

  1. Read, read and read some more. Read the news, magazine articles, blogging tips and other blogs. Keep yourself up to date with current affairs, find interesting stories and blogs that inspire and motivate you. Try new things whether it’s a new activity, going to a new place, eating different foods or even blogging. Comment on other people’s blogs and read others’ comments. All these things will give you ideas for your blog, after which you’ll decide (if you haven’t already) on your niche. Get creative.
  2. Write! Nothing else matters if you don’t write or, moving into this century, type. Hit the damn keys and keep hitting them. Don’t keep stopping (as I do) to edit — just type. You can do your editing at the very end, checking grammar, spelling and punctuation. Yes, there will be mistakes but don’t waste time keep going over the same paragraphs, changing them then re-typing. You can make your blog look pretty with fonts, colour schemes and quirky memes but if there’s nothing to read, people aren’t coming back. So just type.

I Nominate The Following Blogs For The Blogger Recognition Award:

I have chosen the following for various reasons. Some I’ve been following for a while now and others are new but I hope you take a couple of minutes to see what they’re all about!


I appreciate that some of you don’t participate in awards, so please don’t feel pressured or obligated in any way to respond. I love that you are all a part of the blogging community and I truly appreciate every one of you!

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PS: What are your thoughts on blogger awards? Love ’em or leave ’em? I’m keen to know what you think.