Effective communication in health and social care

Communication: The imparting or exchanging of information by speaking, writing, or using some other medium. (Oxforddictionaries.com, 2015) Interpersonal interaction is a communication process that involves the exchange of information, feelings and meaning by means of verbal and non-verbal messages, between two or more persons. (Ismail, 2014)  Communication is the transfer of information between people. It involves a sender, who is sending a message, and a receiver, who is hearing or seeing a message. The way we transfer this information is by speech (verbal communication), signals such as sign language or picture boards (special communication) or writing (non-verbal communication).

This may be the exchange of thoughts, messages, feelings etc. Communication involves verbal, non-verbal, and unspoken ways of making sure our message is heard. The unspoken ways include facial expressions, which are smaller signs of the larger message we are trying to get across. For example a smile can indicate approval, whereas a scowl could indicate disgust or disagreement. The process of communication can be made complicated by many things, such as language differences, cultural background, gender, education, special needs/disabilities etc.

Communication is important as it plays a vital part in our survival. Our dependency on our ability to communicate is a very important factor in our survival and success as humans. for example a in a nursery a baby cries when it is hungry and needs to be fed. If this baby could not communicate with its nursery nurse then they would not know to feed it and therefore the baby would die of starvation.

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Another example is that humans communicate by warning each other of danger, like a teacher in a school telling a child not to eat something poisonous that they’ve found. If the teacher couldn’t communicate with the child then the child may eat the poisonous thing and the child may need to have medical treatment with possibly terrible consequences.

Communication is the exchange of information between people. This information may be the exchange of thoughts, feelings, messages etc. The way we transfer this information is by verbal communication, such as speech, special communication, such as sign language or picture boards, written communication, such as letters, computerised communication, such as emails or texts, or non-verbal communication, such as body language, facial expressions, hand gestures, eye contact.

Effective Communication

Communication is not just speaking however, it is also engaged listening and being able to understand the emotions of yourself and the person you are communicating with. Sometimes what we try to communicate gets lost in translation despite our best intentions. We say one thing and the other person hears another thing, ending is misunderstandings and possibly conflicts. This is why effective communication is important, to avoid the possibility of this happening.

Learning effective communication, using theories such as Egan’s SOLER theory, and Argyle’s communication cycle, can help you improve the communication skills that enable you to effectively connect with others, build trust and respect, and feel heard and understood. You will know that the communication is effective when correct understanding is achieved between the sender and receiver of the information of the emotion and intentions behind the information. Effective communication is needed for different reasons in different scenarios for different purposes. For example:

In a workplace, the boss will use effective communication to establish and maintain good working relationships with employees. They will have to use effective communication to help understand how their employees are feeling and asses their needs. They will use effective communication to ensure they get their point across in meetings so that everybody knows their duties and where they stand within the company. Effective communication is also important in a workplace to ensure safety in the work environment, for example whoever is in charge of the health and safety of the workplace will have to effectively communicate so they the employees know what to do in dangerous situation, for example in the event of a fire, because if the communication is not effective, the employees may not understand what they have to do resulting in possibly disastrous consequences when a dangerous situation arises.

Effective communication is vital for those who work in the childcare sector, as the practitioners need to build and maintain good relationships with the children, their parents, and possibly other relevant authorities (such as social workers, health visitors, police etc.) This is because it is imperative that everybody is provided with the necessary information that they need, so the communication must be concise and clear. The practitioners must communicate effectively in order to gain and share information about the child and discuss care plans.

Without effective communication the practitioners cannot engage productively with each other, resulting in the child possibly receiving the wrong care, and the needs of the child may not be met. The child must also engage in effective communication with practitioners to ensure that we know what their needs are, and how they are feeling. They must feel comfortable with the practitioner and build mutual trust and respect in order for them to be cared for properly.

In a care home for the elderly, the care worker must communicate with the elderly in a friendly and positive manner. If the care worker was walking around and sharply asking each person: ‘You want tea or coffee?’ it would seem rude. The behaviour would come across as cold, disrespectful, and ‘mechanical’. The care worker should start off a conversation first, perhaps ask the person how their day is going, and then offer them a drink, giving them the options of the drinks available.

This would give the elderly person the impression that the care worker is being friendly and doing the act out of kindness, not just carrying out a practical task of their job. either way, the person receives a drink, however the actions leading up to this determine how the person feels once the conversation has ended. You want to leave the person with the right feelings/emotions, and so ending the conversation in a friendly manner, such as saying “have a nice day”, shows that you value them.

There are different types of communication, such as one-to-one or group communication, and different methods of communication that can be used, dependant on the setting in which they are going to be used in, and the purpose for communication. These are:


When one person speaks and another listens. Used by care workers to find out information, responding to questions, provide support to others, reply to complaints etc. In verbal communication, the speaker analyses and interprets the information before responding, but not taking too long to respond. The communication cycle demonstrates that effective verbal communications consists of not only speaking, but engaged listening too.

When practising good verbal communication, the conversation will be able to be continued with replies and obvious interest will be shown. When the communication is verbal it’s very important to make sure that you speak clearly and at a reasonable volume so that the person you are speaking to can hear what you say without feeling embarrassed if they don’t understand. Another reason to speak clearly is so that a client can lip read if they need to.


Communication without speech, such as facial expression, physical contact, hand gestures, eye contact and proximity. All of these contribute to how the message receiver interprets the message that the message sender is trying to put across. For example a care receiver may show the care giver, via body language and/or facial expression, that they are experiencing pain or discomfort, without the needs of speech/verbal communication. Similarly how if a care giver is within very close proximity of the person they are communicating with, it may give off the impression that they are being threatening, and make the person feel uncomfortable.

Non-verbal communication can be very helpful to those with disabilities, as gestures and signs can be universal, however there can be problems if gestures are misinterpreted, not understood, or mean different things to different people. Nonverbal communication should reinforce what is being said, not contradict it. If you say one thing, but your body language says something else, your listener will likely feel you’re being dishonest. (Helpguide.org, 2015)


Computerised communication is the use of technology for communicating with others, such as via email. Emails can be both formal and informal depending on their purpose. Using computerised communication provides a fast way of sending messages to others, that can be received within a matter of seconds, as opposed to posting a letter and having to wait days for it to be received/replied to. In addition to the speed, graphics, sounds and videos can also be exchanged via computerised technology. Computerised technology may be used in a doctor’s surgery to exchange information between a general practitioner and a consultant/hospital they are referring a patient to.

A good advantage of computerised communication is that you are not face-to-face and therefore you have longer to analyse and prepare a response, whereas in face-to-face verbal communication you must reply relatively fast or you may come across as rude. However, along with the advantages of computerised technology, there are disadvantages too, such as if the person you are trying to communicate with via email, for example, is not trained to use computers, and problems can arise if information is not kept confidential.


Written communication is similar to verbal, however it is written down on paper/on a computer. When using written communication the accuracy of what is written is extremely important. Formal records must be kept accurate and to date It must be correct and legible, as inaccuracies can lead to lead to complaints, incidents not being addressed, people being given the wrong treatment, or given the wrong information, which may lead to disastrous results which you can be held accountable for.

Written communication could be used in a school, where the pupils information, such as parent contact number, home address, or any medical issues the school needs to be aware of, could be recorded and put on the computer systems. A strength of written communication is that there will always be written proof of what has been said.

Special(Sign language, Braille, Choice boards)

Special forms of communication such as braille, sign language and choice boards can be especially useful to those with sight or hearing difficulties, or foreign people. However there can be issues if both parties are not trained in the method. Special communication, such as choice boards, could be used in a school with disabled children, when the children are choosing, for example, what they would like to eat, but have speech difficulties. In this situation group or one-to-one communication could be used, depending on the circumstances. Sign language, such as British Sign Language or Makaton, could be used in a day care centre for people with hearing difficulties, to communicate in a wide range of everyday conversations.

An advantage of special communication is that people that have any disabilities can still communicate with others and say what they want to say. An advantage of British sign language is that it’s not reliant on money or technology, as people can just use their hands. However, a disadvantage is that the person receiving the sign language message must be able to understand British sign language too, or there will need to be a translator who understands British sign language to translate the sign language to the person they are trying to communicate with.


Formal communication is used in many health and social care situations, as it is understood by the majority of people and usually doesn’t create communication barriers in the ways which other forms of communication, such as informal language, might do. Formal communication shows respect to the people you are communicating with. When someone enters a reception desk, for example in a day care facility, we expect to be greeted politely. If we were greeting with something like “what do you want then” it would cause offense and would be seen as very rude.

However, the degree of how formal the language is differs between the situation in which it is being used in, and the care worker must adjust the way they are speaking depending on which situation they are in. If someone speaks too formally they may put the person they are talking to on edge and make them feel uncomfortable, but if someone is being spoken to too informally, then they may feel as if they are not being taken seriously or being respected.


Informal communication is used between people who know each other well, for example friends and family. Friends and family may use jargon between one another that others would not understand, therefore wouldn’t be suitable to use with other people, such as slang words only used locally, which someone from another part of the country may not understand. Very informal language would be inappropriate to use in many health and social care settings, such as in a doctor’s surgery, as this would create communication barriers between yourself and the patient, and you may come across as impolite.

For example, it would be acceptable when a patient enters a doctor’s office for the doctor to greet them formally, address them as Mr or Mrs, and shake their hand in a respectable tone at a volume that is not too quiet for the patient to hear, but not too loud that you are shouting at them. If, when the patient entered the room, the doctor said “Alright mate how’s it going?” It would not be surprising if the patient was taken aback, and offended at the doctor’s speech.

In addition to the use of informal language possibly being seen as impolite, using slang/jargon with someone from another country, who may not speak English as their first language, could also create language barriers between the two of you. The person may feel uncomfortable as they do not understand what you are saying and there could be misunderstandings and misinterpretations of what is being said.

Another precaution that needs to be taken by care workers who work with people with special needs is how they word things, for example using phrases such as “ pull your socks up” to mean something along the lines of ‘pull yourself together’, could be taken literally by, for example, autistic people, and this could confuse them a lot.

For example: one-to-one verbal communication would be best suitable in a setting like a doctor’s office, between the patient and the doctor, as the conversation would be about one specific person and their problems/needs, and the doctor will be responding to just that one individual by prescribing a medication, or describing a solution to that person’s specific issue. The doctor may then use computerised communication to contact a hospital or consultant that they would like to refer the patient to, or to prescribe a specific mediation for the patient.

One-to-one verbal communication would also be used in a setting such as a teacher/parent school meeting, discussing a specific child, as what the teacher is saying only concerns the parents of that individual child, or if the teacher is concerned about a student but it is not essential that the teacher speaks to the parent face-to-face, then they may use written communication to send a letter home, or use computerised communication to email the parent.

Whereas, a setting where a group interaction using verbal communication may be more appropriate would be a group therapy setting, as the clients in the therapy session may be more likely to open up and express themselves if they are around peop1le of similar situations.

In a group interaction, all participants must want to be involved for it to work. It is important that the correct emotional atmosphere is set, as sometimes people may feel threatened if they have to speak within a formal group of people, or they might stay quiet because they are worried about other people’s reactions. When speaking in a larger group of people, you should not discuss confidential information and/or problems about any of the participants that they may have shared with you in the past, unless they themselves bring it up and share it with the rest of the group.

If one particular member of the group is not participating, it may be helpful to give them some gentle encouragement, however you must be careful that it does not seem like you are pressuring them to talk, and they only should if they feel comfortable doing so. Likewise, if everybody is talking at once people won’t be able to listen properly and the communication is not effective.

When communicating in a group it is important that everybody can see each other clearly. This is because being able to see each other’s facial expressions and body language plays a huge part in effective communication; an example of this would be all sitting in a circle facing each other. This is very important because it will develop a positive group feeling and people will be able to decode the messages in each other’s facial expressions and gestures. If people are sitting in rows behind one another, they cannot see each other’s facial expressions or body language, making the communication less personal and making the group communication, as a whole, a lot harder than it needs to be.

Type of interpersonal interaction



Speech is the verbal means of communication, consisting of how speech sounds are made (articulation), the rhythm of speech (fluency), tone, pitch and volume. The fluency of speech is very important in the care setting as hesitations or stuttering can affect communication as the other person may not understand you, as is articulation, such as children must learn to pronounce their ‘r’ sounds, in order t say ‘three’ not ‘thwee’.

For example if a doctor was stuttering and their articulation was poor, the patient may mishear what the doctor is saying, for example their medication dosage, and may overdose as a consequence of this misunderstanding. When someone is unable to produce certain speech sounds correctly or fluently, or has problems with their voice, then they have a speech disorder.


Language is different to speech. Language is made up of socially shared rules such as the meaning of words (like the word “right” can mean either correct, or the opposite of left.), how to put words together to make sentences, and what words are best in different situations, like if a nursery teacher was talking to a child they would use simple sentences with basic words, so that the young child can understand them. When a person has trouble understanding what others are saying to them, or sharing their thoughts, ideas, and feelings completely (expressive language), then they have a language disorder.


Your posture is an important part of communication, and can affect how you are perceived by others. An open posture expresses friendliness and positivity. In an open posture you will be sitting up straight with your feet spread apart, and the palms of your hands facing outwards. Your chest will be exposed (arms not crossed etc) and you will face the other person during conversation. University of Northern Iowa College of Business Administration notes that people with open postures are perceived as being more persuasive than those with other postures. (livestrong.com, 2014)

Crossing your arms across your chest, crossing your legs away from someone, sitting in a hunched forward position, showing the backs of your hands and clenching your fists are all signs of closed posture, and may give the impression of hostility, boredom and detachment.

Facial expression

Facial expressions are subtle signs of the larger message we are trying to send. A simple smile can show approval and acceptance, whereas a scowl could portray the feelings of disgust or disapproval. Understanding facial expressions in very important in communication, as assumptions can be made about the facial expressions of the people communicating, possibly leading to misunderstandings.

For example in a doctor’s office at the reception, if a patient is trying to make an appointment with the receptionist, and the receptionist is scowling at them, they may feel uncomfortable and as if the receptionist sees them as inferior. Facial expressions can also help communication, as over text things may seem rude or blunt, whereas if these things were said in person, with a smile on the senders face, the receiver would feel more at ease and that they are not meaning to come across as blunt.


Touch can be used to express empathy and understanding of another person. It can be used to show someone that you care and are there for them. For example if a nurse has to break some bad news to someone in a hospital, he/she may put their arm around the person to show that they are sympathetic and supporting them.


Silence is a good communication device when verbally communicating with someone. Leaving deliberate short silences can leave time for both parties to think about what has been said/what they are going to say next, and can improve the overall understanding of the conversation. For example if a teacher is telling off a child for someone wrong they have done, they may leave silences in between what they are saying, for the child to think and reflect on what the teacher has said, and what they would like to say next. The teacher may ask rhetorical questions to the child to prompt them to really think about what they have done, and leave silences after asking so that the child has time to think.


Proximity can be both negative and positive when communicating. If someone is sittng very close to you it could portray intimacy and friendship, if you know the person well and have a good relationship with them. On the other hand it could be seen as threatening or intimidating, if someone you don’t know very well if talking to you very closely. This also depends on the context of the conversation and the other persons tone of voice.

Reflective listening

Reflective listening is the process of restating back to the speaker what they have said, both the feelings and the words. This is to allow the speaker to focus on what they feel and to show the speaking that you are trying to see things from their point of view, and to hear what they have said so they can focus on their feelings, encouraging them to continue speaking. Reflective listening does not involve introducing new topics or asking questions, it is used to help the speaker understand them and focus on their ideas.

This is best used in counselling situations, as the counsellor can use reflective listening to make sure that the person they are counselling isn’t just speaking constantly and rambling on, they can show to person that they are listening, and use filler words, like “hmm” to give the speaker time to think, and to show that the counsellor is paying attention. The counsellor could use words to encourage the speaker to carry on and elaborate on their feelings, helping the counsellor to understand the person and decide what actions to take/what to say to them, and helping the speaker express themselves and understand themselves more by speaking their feelings out loud.

Cite this page

Effective communication in health and social care. (2017, Aug 02). Retrieved from https://paperap.com/paper-on-effective-communication-health-social-care/

Effective communication in health and social care
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