Effective communication is vital in all organisations, but none more so than effective communication in health and social care – both staff-to-staff but also from staff to the people they are supporting.
In this blog post, I will explore why communication is more than words, and how it encompasses active listening, empathetic understanding, and the ability to create safe and nurturing environments where people feel heard and supported.
The importance of safe spaces for conversations
It is important that we first create an environment that forges and facilitates effective communication. First thing’s first, we need to move away from being so task focused to being people focused – which means that we give ourselves and others time to have conversations.
We need to strive to prevent closed cultures and create spaces that are comfortable and semi-private that allows conversations to easily take place. Chairs in corners of your care home or along the corridor can aid people to just take a moment to sit down with one another and chat. Offices should have areas where people can sit whilst they have lunch or with a cup of tea to encourage ‘in the moment’ conversations.
How to promote effective communication in social care
There are many methods to increase communication, including:
- Regular meetings
- Open door policies
- Communication boards
- Face-to-face meetings
- Phone calls
- Anonymous feedback systems
- Using digital platforms
To answer the question of ‘which method is right’? All of them!
We should be encouraging as many methods of communication as possible, whilst seeking feedback from our teams and the people we are supporting about which other ways we could increase how we communicate. Increased communication has also been shown to have a positive impact on the development of trust.
How to support your team to communicate effectively
You can’t teach people to care, but you can teach them to communicate effectively. E-learning has its place, but I have found face-to-face training much more beneficial and impactful as you can host breakout sessions where people can practice:
- Active listening
- Eye contact
- Having good body language
- Giving someone their full attention
When looking into training, make sure that the trainer covers cultural sensitivities to promote diversity and inclusion, how to start conversations, and how to avoid jargon. This helps ensure that they are aware of what outcomes you want so that you have a training session that benefits your team and the people you support.
Staff training and refreshing communication guidelines allows for clear expectations to be set, which, in turn, helps team members understand their responsibilities.
What are the benefits of effective communication in social care?
I wrote about how we can’t teach people to care, but that we can teach them to communicate, and one of the benefits of increasing people’s awareness and skill to effectively communicate is the knock on impact it can have.
Feelings of loneliness and anxiety in social care are faced by many of the people we support, but open and meaningful communication and conversations can help and encourage people to share their feelings, fears and hopes, and help create a sense that they are valued and heard.
As I write my articles, I am often lost in memories of when I was a care worker, and writing about communication is no different. I think back to all the people I have supported and advocated for during my career. People who have been deaf, blind, introverted, and bed bound.
Without knowing them through effective communication, I would not have been able to have fought on their behalf or been able to enhance the quality of their life by meeting their needs. Communication can have such a big impact, and we don’t always see it.
Tips to start initiating more conversations
Working in our teams often includes young members of staff or people who do not feel confident to start a conversation. We need to break that barrier, and often I have found that it is because they don’t know what to talk about. Here are some simple conversation starters:
- Talk about the weather, for example ‘beautiful weather we are having today, isn’t it?’
- Talk about hobbies and interests, such as ‘Have you seen anything good on the TV lately?’ or ‘do you like to read?’
- Talk about family and friends, such as ‘do you have any children?’
- Talk about food
- Talk about current affairs, I.e. things in the news, sporting events, and such
- Ask open-ended questions, such as ‘what have you been up to today?’, ‘have you got any plans for the weekend?’
Remember, it is important that you actively listen to the responses, engage, and follow up with another question to show genuine interest.
10 effective communication tips from people in health and social care
Halfway through writing this, I stopped, read back and reflected on what it was that I hoped to achieve from this piece. Sure, I could continue writing about communication styles, or what you should be doing with your teams and the people you support, but we all know that.
Instead, I picked up my phone and sent a WhatsApp message to ten people I know who work in health and social care, and just asked them their top tips for effective communication, which were:
- Involve the people you are caring for in conversations.
- Make sure that people can communicate and remember not everyone will use their words.
- Don’t use jargon but instead keep it simple.
- Be consistent if you are communicating with your team, so there are not mixed messages.
- Communication is a two way process. Give it, but also accept it.
- Embrace technology where needed. This person told me how they are using AI through an Alexa device for people in their own homes. The data is captured and allows the team to identify any areas of concern, what the person is thinking and to help create a better care plan for the person based on evidence and data.
- If you are going to implement an open door policy, make sure it is truly open to everyone, staff, the people you are supporting, professionals and family members.
- Be aware of who could be listening to your conversation.
- Communication isn’t just words, think about your website and policies. Are they accessible?
- Text bores me, I much prefer visuals (I think what this person was trying to say, is to ensure that you communicate in a way that is meaningful to the person receiving it).
This isn’t a guide to getting it right, but a stepping stone in the right direction.
Communication doesn’t have to be difficult. Remember, adapt it to the person and make it meaningful. If you need to, seek advice and up-skill your teams. Getting it right can lead to many wonderful things, including:
- Increased trust
- Reduction in people feeling lonely
- Having a team that can understand people’s needs.