How social care staff can improve their communication

Advice and information to help you overcome communication difficulties with service users, from the United Kingdom Homecare Association

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Photo: Monkey Business Images/REX/Shutterstock

By Kim Grove, head of resources and events at the UKHCA

We communicate all the time, sometimes without realising it. Something as simple as a raise of the eyebrow, a smile or a frown can convey a clearly understood message from one person to another.

Good communication is vital in social care. It enables us to build relationships with service users and their family, develop relationships with fellow care staff, managers and other health and social care staff, provide clear information to service users and fellow care staff, and carry out appropriate reporting and recording.

Strategies for overcoming communication difficulties

  1. Communicate when the service user is at their greatest level of alertness;
  2. Give sufficient time for the conversation and take breaks to allow the service user to regroup if they become confused;
  3. Make sure the place where you communicate has sufficient light and quietness to enable communication to take place;
  4. Face the person, maintain eye contact, speak clearly and address the service user by their preferred name;
  5. Use simple language, keep instructions simple and give simple choices;
  6. Check whether the service user understands what you are saying;
  7.  Listen without interrupting and don’t rush the service user into a response.

It is important that care staff communicate with the service user at all times. Saying hello and goodbye are equally as important as asking the service user for information about their condition, day, feelings, or consent to care and treatment. It may be the difference between the person feeling they have been treated with dignity and respect, and received high quality care and treatment, or not.

When caring for someone it is important that you communicate as clearly and truthfully as possible. However, there are times when this might not be possible, but understanding some of the barriers that prevent communication from taking place may improve our communication skills.

Health conditions and communication impediments

Effective communication can be prevented by conditions such as dementia, stroke, autism or sensory impairment, or cases where the service user lacks capacity to make decisions. To overcome this, try to use different communication methods and repeat the communication several times. Check for understanding by asking questions.

Autism

All individuals on the autistic spectrum have some difficulties in the arena of social communication. But as autism is a spectrum condition, there is enormous diversity within this common difficulty. Staff will need to adapt their approach to communication in order to take account of an individual’s specific preferences and needs. To find out more, Community Care Inform subscribers can read our Guide to supporting adults with autism.

There may be communication impediments such as poor hearing, poor vision and speech impediments such as aphasia (inability to speak) that may make communication very difficult. Check to see what other communication methods might be appropriate, for example, photographs, pictures, or sign language.

Adults who are d/Deaf

Working with a d/Deaf service user can present specific challenges with regards to communication, such as the impact on care planning and assessment, and access to interpreters. Paying attention to the individuality of what it means to be deaf or Deaf and how it relates to an individual’s personal biography and life experience is a key starting point. For more information, go to the Community Care Inform Adults’ Guide to working with adults who are d/Deaf.

Inaccurate information and lack of understanding

When service users are given inaccurate information or  poor explanations, this can be very confusing and can hinder understanding of what is being said. To overcome this, ensure all the required information is available, or if the answer is not known, find out the answer and communicate this back to the person as soon as possible.

A lack of understanding of service users can also create communication barriers. Empathy is an important aspect of caring for people and staff should try to understand things from the other person’s point of view.

Culture and language

Translation services may be required but beware of using family members to translate as there may be problems with them communicating difficult issues, or issues they don’t want their relative to know about, resulting in them giving different or inaccurate information.

Anger

If someone is angry about their condition or diagnosis it may be difficult to talk to them about their proposed care and treatment. Anger is a difficult situation to overcome except by acknowledging that it exists and offering to help when the person is ready to receive it.

Verbal communication comes in two forms, written and oral. In social care we are often concerned with oral communication although, at times, we will need to leave written (or other formatted) instructions or messages for others and to record information accurately in care records.

It is important that all significant communications are recorded and reported accurately and in detail so that all those involved in the care and treatment of the person and their family know what questions have been asked and answered, what decisions have been taken and what additional care and treatment has subsequently been organised.

A resource guide to communication can be ordered from the UKHCA’s website.

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