One-to-one communication occurs when one person speaks with or writes to another individual. This happens when a care professional meets with a person who has health worries or personal concerns, such as during a doctor to patient appointment for example. One-to-one communication also occurs when care professionals meet with and talk to each other or with partners, relatives or friends of people receiving care.
Communication in one-to-one situations is most helpful when both people are relaxed and are able to take turns at talking and listening. Effective communicators are good at:
- Beginning the one-to-one interaction with a friendly, relaxed greeting
- Focusing on the objective of the interaction
- Ending the interaction in a helpful and positive way.
Effective communication and interaction take part in an important role in the work of all health and social care professionals. For example, care professionals need to be able to use a variety of communication skills in order to: work with people of different ages and diverse backgrounds; respond appropriately to the variety of care related problems and individual needs; enable people to feel relaxed and secure enough to talk openly; establish trusting relationships with colleagues and service users; obtain clear and accurate information about a person’s problems or concerns; give others information about care related issues in a clear and confident way.
In a doctors’ surgery a GP or practice nurse may use their communication and interaction skills to find out about the symptoms of a service users health problems or may have given you advice or guidance on some part of their health behaviour or lifestyle. Building a good rapport with a service user, shows them respect, listening attentively and speaking clearly in language that they can understand would contribute to the effectiveness of the communication.
Group communication is slightly different to one-to-one communication. There is often more going on in a group, with a number of different people trying to speak to get their point across and their voice heard. Taking turns can be more difficult and relationships and power issues between group members can also be more complicated than in one-to-one contexts.
As a communication context, groups can have various benefits for participants including:
- Group communication can be an effective way of sharing responsibilities
- Groups can improve decision making and problem solving because they get the information and skills of a number of people
- Groups can improve peoples’ self-esteem and social skills
Group communication can also limit the effectiveness of communication if:
- The power in a group is held by a single person
- The group loses sight of its main goal or purpose
- People find it hard to speak and contribute effectively. This can lead to badly thought out decisions being made.
Styles of Communication
There are two styles of communication: formal and informal. Formal communication is referred to as official or correct forms of communication. Formal communication occurs, for example, when someone speaks or writes in a professional way because they are representing their care organisation or are contacting an organisation officially.
Informal communication doesn’t keep to the formal rules of communication. Informal communication is more relaxed and personal than formal communication. People use informal communication when they speak with or write to their relatives or friends. When people communicate in an informal way, they are less concerned about the ‘correct’ use of language. This doesn’t necessarily mean that informal communication is less effective than formal communication.
Communication between Colleagues
Care professionals communicate with colleagues in numerous one-to-one and group contexts every day. Effective communication between colleagues needs: Personal and professional respect for others; trust in the values and decisions of colleagues; good verbal listening skills.
Care professionals can communicate formally and informally with colleagues. Effective communication enables people to work more efficiently and to work together with each other in groups.
Communication between Professionals and Service Users
Care professionals communicate with service users frequently in a variety of ways. These include formal meetings and appointments to assess and diagnose a person’s health problems, in follow-up appointments to review a person’s progress or recovery, in informal conversations during activity sessions and in short communication in a corridor or car park.
To communicate effectively, care professionals need to use language that isn’t too technical or based on jargon. This use of language can frustrate service users because they may not know what the technical terms mean and they feel that their concerns aren’t being answered to in a suitable way. Effective communication enables service users to feel more supported.
Communication with Other Professionals
Care professionals need to be able to communicate effectively with colleagues from a variety of different care professions. For example, a multi-professional mental health team might include mental health nurses, social workers, occupational therapists, psychologists and psychiatrics. Each of these care professionals has particular career training and a variety of specialist skills. Care professionals of this group will need to be able to use their one-to-one and group communication skills adaptably so that they can talk to and share ideas with their colleagues in ways that benefit people in their care.
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Care professionals in multi-professional groups may communicate in both formal and informal contexts. When other care professionals get to know each other well, they may use informal language at times. However, if a care professional has to communicate between different care organisations, they may communicate more formally. Formal communication may be used to ensure that care professionals and organisations are clear about each other’s responsibilities.
Forms of Communication
Care professionals use different forms of communication when communicating with colleagues, other professionals and service users. These include and non-verbal methods of communication. Care professionals use both of these forms of communication when they give or receive information about the care being provided, provide emotional support, and when carrying out an assessment of care needs.
Verbal communication occurs when one person speaks and another person listens. Care professionals need a variety of verbal communication skills to:
- Respond to questions
- Contribute to team meetings
- Provide support to others
- Deal with problems and complaints
- Find out about a service user’s problems or needs.
Issues that care professionals need to consider when communicating verbally include:
- The use of jargon and technical terms
The preferred language and support needs of the person or group they are communicating with.
Verbal communication is word based, so it can involve written or spoken language. Effective verbal communication occurs when a person speaks or writes and at least one other person listens to or reads and understands the message.
A number of features of speech can affect the effectiveness of verbal communication. These features include the pitch, tone, speed, volume and clarity of a person’s voices. For example, it isn’t a good idea to sound aggressive, talk really fast or mumble when having a conversation with someone. A care professional’s speech should be clear, understandable and paced to suit the listener. This enables the listener to hear and fully understand what is being said.
Non-verbal communication is a form of communication that doesn’t use words. We communicate non-verbally through body language, art, drama, music and specialist techniques such as signing. Care professionals need to be aware of how both they and other people use non-verbal communication as this can have an impact on the effectiveness of communication.
Facial expressions involve movements of the face that shows a person’s feelings. When people read at a person’s facial expression they look at their:
- Eyes to see if the pupils are dilated or contracted.
- Skin colour to see if the person is blushing or sweating.
- Mouth to see if the person is smiling or frowning.
Care professionals look at people’s facial expressions to assess a person’s mood and to see their response to a situation for example, when a service user is given results of medical tests.
Touch involves physically touching or holding a person. Touch is a way of communicating reassurance and empathy in care situations. Care professionals are usually allowed and expected to touch others as part of their work. For example, care workers can use touch as a way of communicating reassurance, showing concern and to carry out care procedures.
A person’s posture can communicate information about their attitude and feelings. For example, somebody who is sitting or standing in a very upright, firm way may be seen as being tense or having a serious attitude. Closed postures, when a person has their arms or legs crossed, are usually seen as being defensive or anxious. Open postures are when a person has their arms by their sides and where they lean slightly forward, this indicates that the person is comfortable and relaxed.
Care professionals can use their understanding of various postures to read a person’s mood and feelings. This allows the care professional to collect useful information during assessments and in on-to-one counselling sessions.
Proximity refers to the physical closeness, personal distance or personal space between people during interactions. The amount of personal space that a person requires during an interaction sometimes depends on their cultural background, upbringing and the type of relationship that they have with the other person. For example, people from Western Europe don’t tend to touch others as much as people from the Mediterranean. This is because people from Western Europe prefer formal touching, such as handshakes, unless they know the other person very well.
Active listening involves paying attention to a person’s verbal and non-verbal communication and then reflecting back the important messages. Active listening may involve:
- Summarising what the person has said at different times
- Interpreting what they have been saying in your own words to clarify that you have understood them correctly.
Language Needs and Preferences
Care professionals must be able to adapt to the communication and language needs and preferences of others. This includes people who are unable to use spoken language and people who have sensory impairments that limit their communication abilities.
People who have hearing impairments sometimes communicate through the use of specialist forms of non-verbal signing. Sign languages are often used in settings where service users have limited ability to use verbal language. There are various sign language methods including sign language and Makaton. It is useful for care professionals to develop signing skills if some service users in their care communicate in this way.
Braile is a system of writing for visually impaired people in which patterns of raised dots represent letters and numbers, these raised dots are ‘read’ by the use of touch. People who have a visual impairment that stops them from reading handwritten or printed text use braile.
Use of Signs, Symbols and Images
Signs, symbols and pictures are image created ways of communicating small amounts of information in a direct way without using words. For example, most people are able to understand the difference between the symbols for male and female toilets. Many care organisations, such as hospitals, use a number of signs to inform and direct people to various parts of a building. Signs, symbols and images that are used for communication have to have a clear and easy to understand meaning to be effective in communicating information.
Human aids include people who work as:
- Interpreters, who listen to a person speak in one language and then communicate what they have said to a second person in a different language.
- Translators, translate what is written in one language into a second language.
- Signers who use forms of sign language to communicate what has been said or written into a sign language.
Technological aids, such as electronic communicators and hearing aids are designed to help people who have difficulty communicating. Many people now use technology in the form of mobile phones and computers to communicate with others.
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