Building strong communication skills is one of the core skills of a career as a health promoter, such as a community health worker (CHW) or promotora. Learn about these powerful communication skills and how to improve them and add them into your CHW program.
One of the most important skills that health promoters, such CHWs, need to have is the ability to form a healthy rapport with clients and patients.
Rapport is the strong connection that helps relationships to build and strengthen. But it doesn’t come automatically, at least not all the time. Some people simply click and don’t have to work at developing it. The good news is that establishing rapport is a skill that any CHW can build and use with any client.
Why Does Rapport Matter?
The benefits of this communication skill to a CHW program are significant. Building rapport requires a minor time investment but pays off majorly with patient compliance, understanding the disease process, and even the eventual health outcomes.
There are three skills that you should follow in order to establish a good rapport with clients and patients:
A large part of successfully supporting clients and patients is giving information and effectively getting your point across. But listening to what your clients have to say is equally important.
Melissa Daimler of Twitter wrote an article for the Harvard Business Review that explains different levels of listening:
Level 1: internal listening – is when you focus on your own thoughts, worries, and priorities, while you look like you’re focusing on the other person.
Level 2: focused listening – this next level means you’re focusing on the other person, but you’re not really connecting all the way.
Level 3: 360 listening – here’s the goal. This is when you’re listening to what someone is saying and how, plus interpreting what they’re not saying with words.
Building listening skills is tough. But you here are some ways to improve:
- Make eye contact.
- Give the client enough time to talk—don’t cut them off mid-sentence.
- Show respect by never making clients feel rushed when they are with you.
- Maintain professionalism while being approachable at the same time.
- Ask open-ended questions designed to gather information.
CHWs find solutions to clients’ health problems by understanding their situation. You may not agree with all your clients or even like all of them, but making a genuine effort to understand where they are coming from is a large part of building trust and loyalty.
Cultural sensitivity is important because some issues, such as family planning, are still taboo and need to be approached with a certain restraint to avoid causing uneasiness.
The goal here is not to turn your clients into friends but to know them more than just what is on the case history sheet.
Ways to improve understanding skills:
- Repeat what your client says back to them. And ask them to repeat back any instructions you give to them.
- Practice empathy by putting yourself in the shoes of your clients. And cultivate a shame-free environment for sharing.
- Know your community through a community assessment. This will help you know what kinds of challenges your clients face before even talking with an individual. This should be part of community engagement and outreach training.
- Do what you can to boost your clients’ health literacy skills. This will help them read, understand, and act upon information you share.
- Encourage clients to share their views with you and ask them what they think to gauge at what level of understanding they have.
3. Be Clear
One of the common mistakes that all healthcare providers make is assuming their clients know more than they do. Use your listening and understanding skills to tailor the information being shared. It is important that the client and healthcare provider be on the same plane of communication so they can work towards the same goals.
- Use the right language. This might be avoiding medical jargon or using multilingual resources.
- Include visual aids. They will help bring your words to life and encourage the clients to be more participative in the process.
- Say the same thing in different ways. Repeating yourself is OK, especially in slightly different ways that makes it easier for someone to get what they might have missed the first time.
- Slow down. It might take longer, but good communication means you have to speak slowly. Plus, it will save on clarifying phone calls later.
- Explain why. Sometimes people don’t make lifestyle changes because they don’t know why. Explain the reason for doing something to really drive the point home.
Getting clients to trust a CHW and other healthcare providers is as important as any treatment they receive. Every client walks in with similar expectations of wanting to be heard, demanding your complete attention and to be kept in the loop as to the decisions being taken. A couple of minutes of undivided attention on every visit is all that is required to achieve all of this.