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Effective Communication with Clients is all about how we Conduct ourselves- Tips from Guest blogger Melissa Oxford

Effective Communication with Clients (and those with a disability) is all about how we Conduct ourselves
Guest blog by Melissa Oxford

Working in an industry that is based around caring for humans is so very rewarding, whilst it has its challenges, the rewarding aspect is always in the lead and being able to make an impact on a client’s life is an absolutely amazing feeling. Just as amazing as the impact they can have on yours in whatever role it may be that you have in the disability field.

Unfortunately, it can be just as easy to have a negative impact as fast as it is to have a positive impact. This can happen by the way we display and conduct ourselves without even realising. It is important to ensure we are always doing our best to support our clients to have a voice that is heard, despite their style of communication. It is so very important to understand how we are conducting ourselves around our clients as we can often steer away from being professional, attentive or caring – this can be both intentional and un-intentional however we need to remind ourselves that clients look up to us in a caring role.

Communication is a KEY element to success in maintaining a friendly and growing professional relationship with our clients. Effective communication and being able to understand our clients not only improves their daily living, experiences, self-esteem/worth, ability to socialise effectively/have a voice but it can be a key component to reduced behaviours of concern. There are many key elements of communication that can go missed or un-noticed as being ineffective or disrespectful.

(Melissa Oxford, with sacare clients Mikkel and Dylan)

Some tips around communication:

Find out how the client communicates best first (if possible) and use this as an anchor point to begin a successful communication.
Clients may be verbal, or non-verbal and it is really important to understand their way of reaching out and receiving information. Reading care plans and/or other relevant individual documentation that supports communication is absolutely essential to success. Where this is not possible, sometimes you need to get creative with your client who may be non-verbal, offer thumbs up/thumbs down, smile/sad face, paper to write on, facial signs, etc. It is really important to explain to the client that you respect them trying to communicate and you are working on understanding and thank them for their patience.

Talk with the client, not about them.
At times, we can find ourselves in situations where people may be talking about a client when the client is right next to them. Bring the client into the conversation, ask questions, add comments, seek feedback where possible and leave it open to the client to be a part of this conversation. You may be at the shops, and the cashier may say “does she want a bag?” and even if your client is non-verbal – ask them “I am not sure – should we get a bag?” asking the client and supporting them to answer using whatever adaptive communication relevant to the individual.

Do not discuss your daily task struggles openly as they may offend.
If you are having a hard time due to high physical demand of an activity, cognitive deficit, behaviours of concern or a client related issue – do not voice this to another staff in a way that will offend a client. An example of this may be pushing a relatively heavy chair and feeling strain doing so and walking along saying “this is so heavy”, “this is such hard work”. This removes dignity and respect from the scenario almost instantly and may make your client feel as if they are a burden, inconvenience and have lowered self-esteem. If a task is too hard, or you have concerns - report any issues to your supervisor, team leader or manager for further review and seek alternate support to complete task as best possible.

Engage in clients’ interests.
We sometimes need to remind ourselves that we are workers – whilst we make beautiful friendships in our various roles, we also have a job to do and clients that we have committed to as an employee to give them the very best of you, to make their day the very best. It is not up to us to decide a client’s interests and if a client trusts us enough to care and support them through their hobbies – it is our role to do so providing it is a safe environment and within your job role requirements. By making comments such as “I don’t really like bowling” or “It’s not really my cup of tea” can reduce our client’s engagement and in some cases cause client withdrawal from social settings and lowered self-esteem and confidence. Let’s try “I have never been bowling before – maybe you can show me how it is done?”

Know your client’s values, beliefs, culture and taboos.
By getting to know these you are already on your way to promoting a successful relationship. It is really important to understand what drives someone to be who they are and the values that underpin behaviours and attitudes. The same respect is owed to taboos - these are things that people may find offensive or disrespectful. You may be doing something innocent such as pointing to an object and a client may become aggressive – this can at times be as simple as a cultural barrier or taboo and the person may actually find the action offensive. It pays to know!

Use age appropriate language and don’t assume
Communication should always be respectful, with dignity and not patronizing to the individual. We can never assume that someone does not understand us so speaking to the person as an individual and is always appropriate to ask questions and offer experiences.

Seek feedback
Seeking feedback from our clients, workers, managers, friends and family is so very important to make sure we are getting the most out of our day and being the best support, we can possibly be. Ask that certain someone “hey, are you happy with today? Was there anything I could have done to make this experience better for you? How can I improve?”. Feedback is not criticism and should be seen not only as constructive but allowing others to have a voice.

Take some time to reflect on how you talk to those that you are supporting currently and question:
  • Am I making sure my client is heard? Am I offering my client the relevant opportunities to have a voice? 
  • Is there anything I can do better to promote my client to feel understood and included within decision making and daily living?
  • Is my client happy – have I asked?

Alone we can do so little and together we can do so much, as Helen Keller once said! So let’s work together to support those around us to live their very best lives and communicate freely – no matter their voice!

Melissa Oxford, (or Lissy as shes known around sacare) is apart of the THRIVE team and hops around all of sacare’s facilities as an Activity Coordinator- otherwise known as the fun police to some! Her role is to support clients to create friendships, experiences and lifestyles that are positive and meaningful through group based activities.

Lissy is also a part of the sacare Journo Squad, along with two residents from Briarholm. If you would like to read their latest article, follow this link here



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