Last month I wrote about teams and the importance of effective teams in providing high quality person-centred care. This month I want to focus on probably the single most important aspect of effective person-centred care from the person’s perspective, and that is communication.
Communicating with others is a basic human instinct from a very early age. Newborn babies use a variety of cries to alert their caregivers to their needs before the ‘baby babble’ of mimicked sounds becomes their first recognisable words.
Today communication is dominated by technology where we can be constantly available to others through mobile phones while social media can keep us updated with the activities and thoughts of those we know as well as those we don’t! So given we have all this 21st century technology at hand you would think we had communication sorted.
However, how often is the lack or breakdown in communication at the heart of complaints; service user and employee dissatisfaction; poor professional and working relationships as well as negligent errors?
Failures in communication have been consistently shown to be a significant factor in every serious case review or judicial enquiry into deaths resulting from child or adult abuse or domestic violence, regardless of the organisations involved. On this evidence it is clear we have a long way to go before we really do get ‘communication’ consistently right.
When caring for and supporting people in any health and social care setting the responsibility to communicate with the person and others lies with each and every person involved.
Sometimes it is useful to remember the basics, and as communication is a two-way process here are some things to remember about both giving and receiving the message.
When listening or receiving –
• Be warm and attentive by focusing on the person
• Show that you are listening e.g. use an open body posture, make eye contact, use gestures such as nodding your head or reflect back to the person
• Check your understanding of what is being communicated
• Don’t be afraid of silence allow the person space to think and communicate
When giving your message –
• Keep your communication clear and concise or to put it another way – Keep It Short and Simple – KISS
• Use clear and unambiguous language so that there is less chance of being misunderstood
• Use non-verbal ways to communicate too – e.g. it may help to use a diagram
• Use repetition to make sure your message gets taken in and remembered by the listener
• Check understanding – don’t assume the person has understood or correctly interpreted your message
All too often communication and everyone’s role in ensuring it is effective is taken for granted and this can quickly lead to a breakdown as everyone assumes and no one acts. So when working with others to ensure the best outcomes for the supported person don’t assume anything. Instead make it a rule to check out and clarify your understanding and the expectations of each person’s role and responsibility for whatever is being communicated. So if in doubt…. check it out.
So until next time think about what you can do to improve your own communication as well as that within your organisation or team?