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Create supportive environments to promote effective communication

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To support effective communication within the workplace, it is important to understand the impact that different environments can have. To begin, it may be worth reviewing some of the barriers to communication that you may have covered during previous qualifications.

Physical (noise, light, space, furniture, comfort, colour)

The physical environment can have an impact on the efficacy of communication, so it is important to ensure that the surroundings and conditions are as comfortable as possible to promote effective communication.

External noise should be reduced as much as possible so that each person is able to hear one another accurately and will not be distracted. For example, if there are noisy roadworks outside the meeting room, closing the windows can reduce the interference it can cause.

There should also be adequate levels of light so that individuals are able to see one another’s body language and facial expressions clearly and reduce the likelihood of verbal communication being misinterpreted. Conversely, many individuals with autism report hypersensitivity to light (particularly fluorescent lighting) which can cause discomfort and impede communication, so this may also be a consideration.

Individuals may also experience discomfort if there is not enough space in the area where they are conversing. Cramped or untidy conditions may lead individuals to feel distracted or even claustrophobic. If individuals feel uncomfortable, it can have a negative impact on their ability to communicate.

The furniture and layout of the room may also affect communication. Uncomfortable seating may lead to people wanting to conclude the conversation as quickly as possible and (as mentioned earlier), if there is too much furniture in a room, it can lead to cramped, uncomfortable conditions. Tatty or dirty furniture may also make people feel uncomfortable.

Colour should be an important consideration, not only for walls and furniture but also for marketing materials, such as leaflets, brochures and the organisation’s website. Text colour should be in high contrast to the background colour to make the writing legible, particularly for individuals with visual impairments.

Staff attitudes and stigma

The attitude and beliefs of staff members may impact on the promotion of effective communication if we are unable to take into account the perspectives of others. By having an awareness of how others may be feeling and what motivates them, we are better able to communicate with them in a non-judgmental, compassionate and empathetic way. Looking at Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs and Golman’s Emotional Intelligence can help us to become more aware of the needs of others.

Stigma is a negative attitude or discrimination based on the characteristic of an individual. For example, historically there has been a lot of stigma associated with mental health conditions which led to people not wanting to talk about these issues. More recently, these attitudes have changed and people have become more open about such conditions, however, stigma does still exist. This is why it is important for leaders to nurture a workplace culture that is open, positive and inclusive.

Approaches which support effective communication

To promote effective communication within your organisation, you will need to support the development of communication skills. This can include specialist training as well as modelling good practice yourself.

Each team member will have their own ideas about the areas of their practice that they wish to develop and, as their manager, you will also help them to identify areas for improvement. Collaboration during supervision, appraisals and performance management will help you to reach an agreement about how communication skills can be improved.

Assistive technology

Assistive technology refers to systems and services that enable individuals to maintain independence and, thereby, improve wellbeing. There are several assistive technologies that can improve independent communication, including:

  • Hearing aids
  • Text-to-speech and speech-to-text devices
  • Artificial larynx
  • Picture boards

You can create a supportive environment by ensuring that individuals have access to the assistive technology they need to communicate independently and effectively.

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