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In health and social care, communication is ultimately the bedrock of everything that we do. Every day, communication in social care involves communicating with:
- Service users to establish the best possible delivery of care;
- Their friends and families;
- Our colleagues;
- Our supervisors;
- And we with other professional agencies to streamline care.
We know that communication is essential. It provides us with the opportunity to ensure that our actions are in line with the individual’s needs and wishes and that their agency and autonomy are being respected. As a foundational social work skill, many of the key tenets of the profession are dependent on it, including participation, the personalisation of care and partnership working, amongst others.
Providing us with the opportunity to maintain the best possible standards, developing positive methods of communication is a part of our personal and professional development. But what does good communication look like? What does it actually mean? And what can we do to improve and address the communication barriers?
What is communication?
In the dictionary, the communication definition states it is the ‘imparting or exchanging of information’. However, it is more than this. It is the way in which we share ourselves with others, it can be either positive or negative, and a lack of proper communication can seriously impact on our relationships. A focus on exchanging information also fails to acknowledge that just by saying hello and goodbye or please and thank you, our words have the ability to brighten someone’s day. As human beings, we are social creatures, and the relationships that we create and maintain are vital to our overall health and wellbeing. Relationships which are ultimately dependent on communication to survive and thrive.
Types of Communication
There are so many different ways that we communicate with each other, including:
- Verbal communication:
- Body language
- Facial expressions
- Eye contact
- Written communication
This list is not exhaustive and in fact, there are many ways in which people are able to communicate with each other. For example, some people may require more specific communicative methods due to a disability or impairment.
Developing Communication Skills in Social Care
But what does good communication look like? Well, that completely depends on the individuals or group of people who are having a conversation. We are all unique and we all respond to different things in different ways. However, certain key concepts should consistently be upheld when considering communication in social care, including:
Effective communication is also related to maintaining professionalism, one of the PCF domains. This refers to the manner in which professional attitudes are expressed. The concept is under scrutiny at the moment, but it remains that we need to be aware of how communication is critical in maintaining our professional social work identity.
In order to achieve positive communication, the relationship needs to be one that is based on trust. This can be difficult, particularly if the individual has had previous negative experiences which may have fostered mistrust of professionals in social care.
This is a technique which encourages the listener to fully concentrate on what is being said, understand and then respond appropriately. This approach stresses that it is listening that the most important of interpersonal communication skills for social care settings.
Studies have shown that empathy is essential when it comes to engaging service users. It refers to our ability to try and understand the individual’s experience from their perspective, and our awareness of the feelings and emotions of others.
Compassion is a core value within health and social care practice, and many of us are in the professional due to the compassion we possess for those who are disadvantaged.
Each interaction with any service user should ultimately be anti-oppressive, and mindful of the individual’s sociocultural needs and differences.
Communication can sometimes be a bit of a minefield, and there are numerous barriers to creating an environment in which positive interaction is possible.
For example, prejudice can serve as a significant barrier to positive communication. Health and Social Care professionals have a duty to adopt anti-oppressive practice, and this includes being aware of the misconceptions and prejudgements that they may hold. Furthermore, the service user may have had negative past experiences, and they may have preconceived ideas about how positive the outcomes of care can be. As a result, it is imperative that communication aims to address the power imbalances that exist in the professional-service user relationship, and adopts the key principles that were discussed prior.
The way in which we talk is also important, such as using appropriate accessible language to ensure full understanding. However, whilst the use of academic language or jargon can be exclusionary, in just the same manner, using child-like language or speaking slowly can be patronising. A language difference is a more obvious challenge, and you may need to use an interpreter or translator. We also need to be aware of the impact of non-verbal communication. The way we position ourselves, our posture, eye contact, and the facial expressions we use are all effective communicative tools that can engage or disengage.
It is clear that communication is such a crucial component of practice. Providing the foundations of a collaborative relationship with our service users that is based on mutual trust and understanding, communication in social care enables us to empower those we work with to participate in decision-making and promotes the personalisation of care. The way we communicate may differ with everyone that we speak with and we are responsible for implementing effective communication strategies to determine what is best.
As health and social care professionals, it is our duty to establish the most effective ways of communicating with each individual we meet whilst also maintaining the key values and principles that are embedded within our profession. The success of a holistic approach to care that aims to place the service user at the centre is ultimately dependent on it.