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Effective Communication – It's Key!

Effective Communication – It's Key!

As we approach situations when we need to advocate, it's important to consider strategies that will help to make things as successful and smooth as possible for all parties involved. Communication is essential and effective communication, like any skill, takes practice. Here are the key components of effective communication skills, taken from Marshall Rosenberg's book, Non-Violent Communication.

Be a Good Listener

Don't plan your response while the other person is talking. Instead, focus your attention on trying to understand the other person's point of view, needs, wants, feelings, and ideas. Sometimes it can be helpful to paraphrase what you heard the other person say to make sure you understood. This helps eliminate incorrect assumptions. You could begin by saying, "I want to make sure I am understanding you correctly. I heard you say...." After you paraphrase what you heard, check your understanding with the other person, and give him/her the chance to say more. "Did I understand you correctly? Is there anything else you'd like to add?" Let the person finish before you start responding to what he/she said. Try and put yourself in the other person's shoes. What might he/she be feeling/needing?

Make Observations, Not Judgements.

Observations are free from judgment, evaluation, or opinion. They are based on fact. For example, instead of saying, "The occupational therapist does not care about my son!" say, "The occupational therapist has not shown up for the past 2 appointments." Or, if talking directly to the person (which is always best) say, "I've noticed you haven't shown up for our last 2 appointments."

Express and Take Responsibility for Your Feelings

Sometimes, especially when strong emotions are involved (which can be often when you are dealing with the challenges of supporting a child with a disability) it can be difficult to express and take responsibility for your emotions. Avoid blaming others for how you feel. The simple way to do this is through the use of an "I-statement." For example, instead of saying, "You made me angry." say, "I feel angry." Don't get caught in the "volcano syndrome" style of communicating. This is when you don't express how you are feeling to avoid conflict. When you do this, emotions build up, and eventually, you explode. Conflict is most effectively resolved when it is dealt with immediately.

Connect Your Emotions to Your Needs

Usually, our emotions are telling us that our needs are not getting met in some way. When feeling strong emotions, take some time to figure out what it is you need, and add that to your "I-statement." For example: "I feel angry when I've cleared my schedule and you don't show up. I need to trust you to keep the schedule so my child can get the services he needs."

Make a Request

When making a request, you are asking to get your needs met. It is impossible to do this without knowing first what your needs are. When you make a request, you are not trying to control the other person or make a demand – instead you are honestly trying to acknowledge and communicate what you need from the other person to help resolve the conflict. "I would like to request that if you can't keep our appointment that you call me and give me as much advance notice as possible. I'd also like to make up the 2 missed OT sessions. Is that possible?"

Review of the Steps:
  1. Listen/Paraphrase
  2. Observe
  3. Express Feelings
  4. Express Needs
  5. Make A Request

Every conversation brings an opportunity to practice effective and productive communication, a skill that takes practice. In the coming year, let's all capitalize on these opportunities, listening to and understanding the needs, feelings, and requests of other people and communicating our own effectively.

You can learn more about non-violent communication at The Center for Nonviolent Communication's website. You can also contact a PEAK Parent Advisor for more communication strategies to use when working with schools, by email parentadvisor@peakparent.org or by phone 800.284.0251. 

 Copyright 2010 © by PEAK Parent Center, Inc. All rights reserved. Permission to reproduce may be obtained from PEAK Parent Center.