Introduction to effective communication in care

Communication can be achieved using a wide variety of methods. You can make yourself heard through speech or silently using gestures and facial expressions. You might handwrite letters or reports, or use technology to send emails, emojis, create social media posts or publish an ebook like this one. But communication is a two way street. If a communication isn’t received or understood, it’s non-effective. Non-effective communication can be avoided by recognising the requirements of the people you are addressing.

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Communication can be achieved using a wide variety of methods. You can make yourself heard through speech or silently using gestures and facial expressions. You might handwrite letters or reports, or use technology to send emails, emojis, create social media posts or publish an article like this one. But communication is a two way street. If a communication isn’t received or understood, it’s non-effective. Non-effective communication can be avoided by recognising the requirements of the people you are addressing.

For the most part, communicating with others is pretty straightforward. For example, most people don’t have much trouble exchanging money for groceries or asking a stranger for directions. However, in a care environment your residents may be vulnerable and need extra support, so it’s beneficial to tailor your style to match each individual’s needs.

Adapting your communication is one of the best ways to improve your service because what works for one person may not be right for someone else. This means that a person-centred approach should be applied to every interaction – whether it’s speaking, listening, writing, drawing or gesturing. Effective communication can lead to better care and has many benefits for both the care provider and the individual. This ebook covers the basics of effective communication in care, including the different areas and benefits of communication, what skills should be developed and common mistakes we all make.

Introduction to effective communication in care

Why is communication in care important?

Good communication allows us to make a connection with another person and understand their perspective. When this isn’t present in a care environment, we can only assume what other people need, and although we might have the necessary tools to help them, we could be using them inefficiently when all the pieces of the puzzle haven’t been put together. Making assumptions based on previous personal experience or physical factors, like ability or culture, can potentially be harmful in practice when you don’t have all the information.

Social care workers use many different areas of communication each day, both verbal and non-verbal, depending on each individual’s needs. Having strong communication skills will assist you when developing relationships, and healthy relationships improve your service and help the business to thrive. With some people you may have a natural connection, but others who find it a challenge to communicate will need extra support.

If you need to adapt your communication, you can do this by matching someone else’s style (or meeting them at their level). It only takes a few moments after meeting someone to pick up on details that can help you. If someone is shy, struggles to speak, is unwilling to cooperate, or if they repeatedly ask you to explain what you mean, you will immediately recognise a need to apply a unique style to make the communication effective. You can use trial and error to find a method that leads to positive results, and demonstrating that you have been able to adapt to different needs is part of providing person-centred care – a valuable skill that inspectors look for.

Benefits of communication in care

It takes practice, but if someone in your workplace – either a resident or colleague – has different communication needs due to age, experience, confidence or a condition, finding an effective style that works for them will help them feel understood and know that they are valued. Good communication demonstrates respect and allows the most vulnerable to maintain their dignity and independence. Asking someone how they would prefer to be addressed is a great way to show interest and establish a friendly tone from the very start of a relationship.

Giving clear information is always appreciated no matter who you are speaking to. But for residents especially, understanding and feeling connected to the support and care you will be providing can help them gain the confidence to open up about themselves. This is essential for carrying out a care assessment, which at its foundation is a communication tool. Having a resident who is apprehensive about discussing certain details may result in an ineffective care plan, which wastes precious time and resources.

Getting to know your residents better can support you in making informed decisions about their care. Understanding their likes, dislikes and personalities and how this all fits in to the service you provide will help them feel more comfortable throughout the day and ultimately more satisfied with their lifestyle. Recording their preferences and moods is essential to evidence what works well and what didn’t work, and so other care workers meeting a resident for the first time can start their relationships on the right path.

Documenting your residents’ preferences may include writing down how they like to be addressed, what interests they have, their routine and any notes detailing how a resident chooses to communicate. Regulatory bodies will look for this type of information during an inspection to establish the level of care, response and effectiveness you provide. It’s important to always be respectful and aware of confidentiality – one slip up can set your progress back and hurt your trust.

Once you have established a strong relationship with a good level of communication, having transparency with your residents and colleagues can empower and motivate them. For example, when a resident has become more confident in their understanding of their care, you may decide to bring up an idea that previously wouldn’t have been well received, such as whether they feel comfortable to take on more responsibility by self-managing certain aspects of their daily routine.

Areas of communication

There are six key areas of communication that health and social care providers will regularly use. They are not necessarily exclusive and using these effectively and in combination will return the most benefit to you and your residents.

  1. Listening: Listening is incredibly important but isn’t always the first thing that comes to mind when we think about communication. Being able to not only actively listen to what a resident or colleague is saying, but also read between the lines or pick up on clues that may indicate the type of support they need, is an incredibly useful skill to develop.

  2. Non-verbal: Non-verbal communication is all about body language and the way in which you present yourself. Being positive and confident will make residents feel much better than if you are negative or disengaged. You can also read someone else’s body language to detect which mood they might be in, for example, if they are confused or uncomfortable.

  3. Verbal: Verbal communication is the way you talk to residents and colleagues. Using clear, accurate and honest language will ensure people understand what you are trying to communicate. Understanding who you are talking to is also important for adapting your verbal communication appropriately, both in pace and the words you use. You may need to slow down or speed up depending on the needs of the person you’re addressing, without coming across as condescending or rushed.

  4. Questioning: The way in which we ask questions can impact answers and discussions. Understanding the difference between open and closed-ended questions will help ensure you ask the right sorts of questions at the right time. Open-ended questions allow you to build a conversation and explore a subject deeper, whereas a closed-ended question incite a set response.

  5. Written: Any written communication needs to be as clear as possible and adapted to match the needs of the person you’re writing for. Confusion or misunderstandings could result in serious implications, for example, the wrong medication being taken. If the person comes back to you and asks to explain or rewrite, that is time which has been lost and is an area where your service could be improved. Written could also involve drawings or diagrams if the individual learns better from visual representations.

  6. Recording: Recording important resident data and sharing it with the relevant people is a vital component of healthcare to improve efficiency and manage data appropriately. Recorded information should be clear, detailed and serve a purpose. Usually, not just stating ‘who and what’ but also saying ‘how and why’, and how did the person feel. Every detail helps to build a story which will be used to better your future service for an individual and improve your inspection results. However, if the wrong person has access to your data, that could be a breach in confidentiality.

Effective use of communication​

People communicate differently depending on what works best for them in certain social situations. Some people become talkative or use humour when they are nervous while others will prefer to sit back and listen. If someone’s confident, they may be less likely to take feedback, whereas someone who is curious will ask questions. It’s essential to maintain a strong two-way communication no matter how formal or informal your relationship is. The following includes tips to help you communicate effectively with the people you support.

Verbal communication

Speaking

Residents want to feel at home and part of a community, so it’s important to make a great first impression and continue building that bond at every opportunity. Simple gestures, like saying hello and making small talk as you pass them in the hallway, will help the individual know that their time and what they have to say is valued. When speaking, to reduce misunderstandings, use a clear, calm tone and avoid mumbling. You can match the pace of your speech to the requirements of your audience, which is most beneficial to those with a hearing, learning or visual disability.

When discussing care, always aim to give clear and accurate information to help your residents understand a subject. Or if you don’t have the information at hand, find out the answer and let them know as soon as possible. Coming across as unsure or guessing can cause doubt and confusion, especially if you have to backtrack and correct yourself. If someone struggles to understand, try repeating and rephrasing what you said in a different more relatable way. Always make sure the individual feels confident before the meeting comes to an end by asking them if they have any questions.

Avoid using language that won’t be understood by someone without the same level of knowledge on a subject, unless you are going to explain it in a way the individual can process. Uncommon or technical-sounding words, slang, jargon and acronyms can stop the flow of a conversation or make someone feel confused. If they don’t have the confidence to ask you to clarify then it could negatively impact their care.

Open-ended questions give people the opportunity to talk freely instead of providing you with one word answers, which limits their response. When open-ended questions are incorporated into casual conversation, it’s easier to bounce off each other and explore a subject in depth as new key details come out. If you choose to adopt a formal interview style questioning process, your resident will feel restricted and it may be trickier to extract that important detail for connecting two pieces of information together that helps you make an informed decision on their care.

Listening

Listening to residents involves more than hearing or recording what they tell you. You are an active participant in the conversation so it’s essential to pay attention and acknowledge that you are engaged. This means picking up on key pieces of information and social cues, and digging deeper. How are they communicating? What is their tone of voice, facial expression and body language? Could there be more to what they are saying than what is being discussed on the surface?

After asking a question there shouldn’t be a rush for the person to respond. Everyone answers in their own time and it can take longer for some people to process information and formulate a reply. This may result in silences, but being patient is respectful and demonstrates you understand their needs. If they clearly need some support, follow up and ask if they would like you to rephrase the question.

Other ways to express interest include making simple gestures and providing reassurance to let them know they are being heard. Being empathetic toward their situation and repeating back to them what you have understood to check whether you’re both on the same page is a powerful relationship-building technique.

Non-verbal communication

Face & body language

Eye contact is a great way to build a relationship with someone else because it shows you are paying attention and taking an interest in what the other person is saying. It also gives you an opportunity to read how the other person is feeling in the moment. For example, you may recognise mistrust, shyness or nervousness if the person you’re speaking to can’t maintain eye contact for very long.

Similarly, facial expressions and body language can communicate a wide range of emotions without the need to speak. Actively think about the faces you make when listening, otherwise you might give the wrong impression and damage the flow of the conversation. Also, try to pick up on signs that tell us how the other person is feeling – most of us will instinctively recognise when someone is happy, sad or angry based on their eyes and mouth. Boredom could be expressed by looking away, crossing your arms or yawning, while learning forward with a wide-eyed expression might indicate interest. Head scratching, fidgeting, staring and pursed lips could show someone is confused. If you identify a negative emotion, ask yourself if you can change your communication approach.

How physically close you should be to someone depends on the individual’s preferences. Being too close or too far away could make the person feel uncomfortable, which would mean they aren’t giving you 100% of their focus. Use your best judgement based on how the other person reacts or ask questions if you’re unsure. For example, ‘would you like to sit here?’ In situations when you need to get next to the person or touch them, announce what you are going to do so they aren’t caught off guard. As your relationship changes, you might find yourself becoming closer to the person as you gain their trust.

Environmental factors

It’s important that everybody is comfortable when you communicate. The environment you’re working in, whether it’s a private room or communal space, can have an impact. It’s always a good idea to ask the individual whether they are happy to talk in the space provided, or if they would like to go to an area of their choosing. Noisy rooms can hinder your ability to verbally communicate and concentrate, or don’t offer the privacy necessary to discuss confidential information or sensitive feelings. On a non-verbal level, poor lighting will reduce visibility and affect you being able to clearly see eye contact, facial expressions or body language. Other factors which may lead to ineffective communication include the temperature, distracting décor and uncomfortable furniture.

Communication skills to develop

There are several skills that social care workers can develop to get the most out of their communication with residents. In addition to matching an individual’s communication needs, it’s important to know how to organise a conversation and keep it flowing. Without a structure in place, the focus can stall or jump around without really exploring a subject in depth and you might not get to the bottom of the matter at hand. If you plan on checking in with someone, have a brief idea of how you want the conversation to go and work on ticking off a list of points as the discussion unfolds.

To encourage your residents to expand on their thoughts and give you as much detail as possible, you can ask open-ended questions and use listening skills and non-verbal communication to express interest and empathy. Ensure you record any information as clearly and accurately as possible for anyone else who might want to read about your conversations. It’s also beneficial to learn about different cultural differences, disabilities, physical and mental conditions and how they might impact communication. Talking to your colleagues who have experience with this is a great way to build your knowledge.

Using technology to support communication

In addition to increasing efficiency and supporting better levels of care, digital care management systems like CareDocs are a fantastic tool to assist you with improving communication across the business and beyond. Managers have total control over who has access to information, ensuring every user’s experience is optimised for their job role. Having everything you need to work easily and accessible in only a few clicks helps to increase transparency of care for all, allows external staff like activity co-ordinators to create detailed Daily Notes, Group Events for your residents, and evidences your compliance for inspectors.

Person-centred digital Care Plans can be created using an easy three-step process which starts with completing the Care Assessment. Due to its person-centred care approach, CareDocs naturally promotes strong communication and co-ordination between staff and residents. We encourage your staff to record high levels of detail, helping to enhance the resident’s service and contributing to higher levels of regulatory compliance.

You can use mobile devices like smartphones and tablets to achieve point of care recording. Recording information as you are delivering care directly into the system improves accuracy and saves you from writing down notes that need to be logged later in the day which may be misinterpreted. You also have the opportunity to record Emotion Mapping to get a clearer idea of how a resident responds to certain events.

Even if you have a large number of individuals in your care, finding specific reports and records is easy. CareDocs has many customisable search options, allowing you to filter by resident, data, event, staff member and more. It will only display results relevant to your requirements, ensuring a quick and efficient experience. Handover and event reports are among the digital resident reports you can generate at the click of a button to communicate with other colleagues.

You may also wish to send instant and secure messages using the Staff Messaging Centre, or post announcements on the digital Staff Notice Board. If you have to communicate with external health professionals in the event one of your residents has to be taken to a different facility, print off an Emergency Admission Packs with key information to help them provide instant care. Communication is built into the core of the CareDocs software and the more you explore the different features, the more you appreciate just how necessary it is to communicate effectively in a care environment.

Top tips for communicating

Strong communication is essential for building relationships, confidence and trust. A healthy communication will ensure you are able to provide the best possible service at your care home. Recapping everything mentioned so far, here’s a summary of our top communication tips.

  • Form a structure in your mind for how you want the conversation to go.
  • Use simple, straightforward language and stay focused on the objective.
  • Treat everybody as individuals with unique needs.
  • Match the individual’s communication style if needed and be willing to adapt.
  • Be confident but open-minded.
  • Ask the individual how they would like to be addressed.
  • Be patient and respectful of each individual’s abilities.
  • Let the individual know you are listening by using non-verbal language.
  • Study body language and facial expressions.
  • Maintain eye contact.
  • Take time to respond.
  • Make sure you are understood to avoid any confusion.
  • Use multiple methods of communication if necessary (e.g. drawings or diagrams).
  • Ask for feedback and apply it to future practice.

Common communication mistakes

Using an ineffective communication method may prolong a resident’s treatment and waste precious time and resources. Failing to adapt to find a way that works for the situation can be frustrating and doesn’t build trust or confidence in your abilities. A trial and error approach can be adopted to find a common ground, and as you explore the different styles of communication, aim to make things as simple and comfortable as possible to start building a connection. Once you form a strong relationship with the resident or have an opposing view on how something should be done, don’t let your emotions get in the way of making the right decision for them.

Interrupting someone when they are speaking can create the impression what you have to say is more valuable. This can be damaging for a relationship as the other person might be less inclined to participate in a conversation if they feel they will be ignored. If they are saying something which is not factually accurate or that you might disagree with, it’s respectful to wait for them to finish before politely correcting them. They might have crucial information that will go unheard if they are being cut short. It’s worth keeping in mind that using a negative body language can speak volumes even when you’re not saying anything. Try to remain relaxed and engaged when someone else is talking.

Feedback is key to improving the service, so when someone provides constructive criticism to you or challenges your opinion, not listening may put the health of your residents at risk and will prevent you from learning and developing. Through keeping an open-mind and remaining professional instead of becoming defensive or offensive, you can explain your side calmly and try to understand another point of view. Great communication needs to be a two way street and if you gain a reputation of being difficult to speak to, you could end up being left out of the conversation next time.

To learn more about CareDocs please book a free demo with one of our friendly Business Development Managers, email sales@caredocs.co.uk or call 0330 056 3333 (opt. 2).

If you require assistance with the CareDocs software, we’re standing by to provide support. Email support@caredocs.co.uk or call us on 0330 056 3333 (opt. 1).

Download your free ebook!

Don’t forget to grab your copy of our free Introduction to Effective Communication in Care ebook…

Originally published on September 24, 2021
Article updated on September 29, 2021

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