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Infant Toddler Development Training
Module 2, Lesson 3

The Importance of Good Communication

One of the most valuable skills that you can develop is the ability to communicate clearly and sensitively. Effective communication is a complex process that takes time and practice. Among other things, good communication involves

  • approaching interactions positively, with an open mind
  • listening attentively to your fellow team members
  • maintaining awareness of your internal state and body language
  • accurately interpreting the non-verbal communications of others
  • using the proper tone of voice
  • choosing the right words
  • delivering your message at the appropriate time

It is important to avoid taking communication skills for granted. While some people are naturally good communicators, most of us need to practice certain skills. Effective communication involves using your whole being to convey complex thoughts and feelings to another individual.

There are several good reasons for improving your communication skills. If you have good communication skills, you will be more likely to help children and families. You will have the ability to listen to families and 'hear' their messages - both verbal and non-verbal. You will be better able to express your observations to your fellow team members. You will be able to ask questions appropriately and provide feedback more effectively. You will also be better able to 'take in' information that is offered by your fellow team members.

Three children   and three mothers sitting on floor at playgroup

If you are able to express your thoughts and feelings clearly, you will contribute more to your team. Others will have a better understanding of your perspective. You will set an example for others on your team. If a number of team members exhibit good communication skills, then the whole team benefits. The team will be closer, more cohesive, and more knowledgeable due to the exchange of information across disciplines.

Lastly, communication skills are important to most all life endeavors, be they professional or personal. Good communication skills transfer across settings.

Basic Communication Strategies

  • Listening
    Listening is perhaps the most difficult and the most necessary component of communication. It is important to turn off your internal dialogue and simply listen to what others have to say. To listen well, you must remain open-minded and non-judgmental. Avoid anticipating the speaker's questions and concerns. Don't worry about what you are going to say next. Simply attend to the speaker's message - verbal and nonverbal. This process is known as cultivating 'moment to moment awareness' or 'presence.'
  • Paraphrasing
    It is often helpful to restate or rephrase what the speaker says, just to make sure that you heard them correctly. Most people really appreciate it when we take the time to clarify information. When paraphrasing, attend to both the content of speaker's message and the emotional tone of the message. Your statement should be an accurate reflection of both content and feeling.
    For example, you might say, "If I understood you correctly, you are delighted by Jimmy's progress, but also concerned about the possibility of losing services next year..." Or, "I'm hearing you say that you are frustrated by this strategy and that you would like to discuss some alternatives.
    Of course, there are an infinite number of ways to rephrase, reword and reflect messages. Use your own style of expression. Your communication should be natural, not stilted.
  • Acknowledging
    It is also extremely important to simply acknowledge the various communications of your fellow team members. When you acknowledge another person's experience, you communicate that you noticed and understood the significance of a particular thought or act. For example, you might say "Thank you for setting up the appointment today. I know you were very busy and I appreciate you making an extra effort to help." When acknowledging a parent, you might say, "Thank you for sharing that information about your morning routine. I can see that it has been quite a challenge." Acknowledgement can also be communicated by smiling, nodding the head, and by expressions such as 'uh huh,' which communicate understanding and agreement (Briggs, 1997).
  • Asking Questions
    In teamwork, it is often necessary and appropriate to ask questions. For example, you may need to gather additional information, clarify information, or pursue a topic in greater depth. When asking questions, exercise caution and avoid "going overboard." When too many questions are asked in rapid succession, the person on the receiving end may feel they are being grilled (Beckman, 1996).
    It is also preferable to ask "open-ended questions", rather than closed-ended questions. Closed-ended questions require brief responses, such as yes or no. They do not encourage elaboration. In contrast, open-ended questions allow the person an opportunity to provide as much information as they choose. For example, a service coordinator might ask a parent, "How many children do you have?" That is a closed-ended question that requires a simple answer, such as "none" or "two." Instead, the service coordinator might have said "Can you tell me about your children?" This is an open-ended question. The parent is free to reveal whatever he/she wants. This type of question facilitates both information gathering and rapport building.
  • Summarizing
    Summarizing statements 'recap' important points of a discussion. Such statements help the team to more clearly see what has transpired in a meeting. Summarizing statements help the team pull together the main issues so that decisions can be made. For example, a team member might say "Let's take a moment to review some of the strategies we have discussed, so that we can decide what is most important." Or, "It seems like we have identified at least three different concerns..." Another variation is "Let's review what we have agreed on today..." (Briggs, 1993). Summarizing statements are useful because they shift the group's perspective to the 'big picture.' This is often a very important part of consensus building.

 

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