By, Charlette Beasley, Arkansas Home Visiting Network
Do you remember playing ‘Telephone’ as a child? One child whispers, “School is out for the whole year” to the child beside him, and each child whispers what he hears to the next until the message reaches the last person in the circle. At this point, “School is out for the whole year,” has usually morphed into, “Sue is about to be four this year.” It is easy to blame this failed communication on the fact that the participants are children, but the truth is that many adults encounter similar situations.
Poor communication skills plague many people, and can sometimes make it difficult to working effectively with others. As a professional in any field, it is important to have the skills to effectively communicate. As a home visiting professional, it is imperative. Working with parents/caregivers to build stronger families requires much more than just providing information. What good is it if you provide a family with all of the information they could ever need, if they never receive the message?
Here are five best practices home visitors can apply:
- Listen. Listening requires much more than just hearing. Hearing is merely the involuntary process of perceiving sound with your ears, whereas listening is intentional. When you choose to listen, you put forth concentration and effort to find meaning from the sounds you hear. When a new mom implies that she is suffering from symptoms of depression, it is wise to listen for a deeper understanding of what she is feeling through her words and nonverbal cues so you can provide guidance and possibly a referral.
- Learn your families. Every family is different. There are single parent households, two-parent households, college-degreed parents, parents without high school diplomas, and Black, White, and Hispanic families. With the variation among families, taking the time to really get to know each is essential. While one family may be put at ease by the way in which you present parenting information, another might take offense. Learning how to customize your communication style for each family based on their values, culture, communication style, etc. will help them be open to your message.
- Be relatable. You learn to be relatable as you learn your families. Presenting yourself more as a confidant who wants to help instead of an advisor will likely make visits more engaging and productive. People tend to let their guards down with those they do not view on a pedestal.
- Make them feel important. Asking a parent for her opinion on something you have shared gives the impression that you value what he or she has to say. It creates the opportunity for two-way communication, which tends to be much more productive than one-way. Also, encouraging parents to talk about themselves and their goals as a parent and individual can be a great confidence booster when you show interest.
- Simplify complexity. German-born American painter Hans Hofmann said it best, “The ability to simplify means to eliminate the unnecessary so that the necessary may speak.”
And there you have it. Taking the necessary steps to improve your communication strategy will make a world of difference for you and your families. You will find it easy to share the information you have, and they will find it easy to receive. Win-Win!
Charlette Beasley is the Grant Accountant for the Arkansas Home Visiting Network.Funding for this project was made possible by the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) under grant number D89MC23141 of the Affordable Care Act - Maternal, Infant, and Early Childhood Home Visiting Program awarded to the Arkansas Department of Health. The information or content and conclusions expressed in this material is the author's and should not be construed as the official position or policy of, nor should any endorsements be inferred by HRSA, HHS, or the U.S. Government.
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