Monday, February 15, 2010

Sensitivity in Communication

Sensitivity in Communication

Communication is the most important way we deal with other individuals. All species, including humans, communicate using a combination of verbal and non-verbal skills. In the best of circumstances there may be misunderstandings based upon the way a person interprets what and how something is said to them.

When interacting with people who have physical challenges the experience can become more complicated. Regardless of whether or not someone has all their senses, much of what is expressed here applies to everyone. Here are some examples that are specific to the visual and hearing challenged communities.

Let’s pretend we are giving directions to a visually challenged person. It is important to be specific about what you are saying. You will be giving them recognizable landmarks and measurable distances. We have all heard the direction “go that way”. Well, which way is that way? The visually challenged person can’t see which way you are pointing. Even something as simple as giving directions takes patience and understanding of a person’s requirements. A solution here is to identify the direction using a clock system, for example, it’s at 3 o’clock from where they are facing, and it’s a 10 minute walk. Being specific will alleviate the stress and uncomfortable feelings for both parties.

A person who is hard of hearing (HOH) presents a different set of challenges. This individual relies on hearing devices to identify sounds and words. The general misconception amongst hearing enabled persons is that someone who is hard of hearing and asks for a clarification cannot hear at all. The truth of the matter is that a person may recognize sounds but not actual words. The environment may have been noisy. When there is excess background noise and one wears a hearing aid, the noise overpowers the sounds of the person speaking. The speaker may have been mumbling or covering their face with hands blocking the passage of sounds. This is really a simple case of not being able to understand what a person is saying rather than not being able to hear.

Proper communication practices mean clear enunciation, steady pace, and simple words. Many words have the same sounds when spoken; any person can mistake one word for another that sounds alike.

Here are features of verbal and non verbal communication to be aware of:

Verbal Non Verbal (Body Language)

Tone of Voice Facial Expressions
Speed of Speech Showing Annoyance
Clearness of Speech Hand Movement
Pronunciation of Words Lip Movement
Volume of Sounds Head Shaking
Too loud/ Too Low Staring Eyes
Mumbling Diverting Eyes