Building Strong Communication Skills in OT

Today’s article is a guest post written by occupational therapist Chelsea Jancewicz, OTR/L, all about building solid communication skills in occupational therapy. Thanks, Chelsea, for sharing this helpful advice!

Working as an occupational therapist in healthcare, chances are you were gifted with strong communication skills, or like me, you have had to work on strengthening at least one or some aspects of your communication skills to be the most efficient communicator you can be. 

Being a patient-facing clinician, I am almost constantly in a state of communication with a patient, caregiver, or other healthcare provider.  So, it really helps to hone in on your communication skills as an OT in order to provide the most optimal care and treatment you can.

There is much out there on communication and communication styles that it can be overwhelming to even begin to self-reflect on your own communication habits and style. 

Communication Basics

Let’s look at some basics in regard to communication that will help you succeed:

  • Listening — Practice active listening like paraphrasing what your communication partner has said, waiting to disclose your opinion, or validating concerns.
  • Nonverbal — Be mindful of what your body language is conveying to your audience.  Pay attention to your eye contact and what that might mean from a cultural standpoint.  Also be aware of your communication partner’s nonverbal communications.
  • Clarity and Concise — This is what you are saying clear and direct or is it too vague or the message implied?  These things can impact your communication exchange with your partner.
  • Respect — Show your respect for your communication partner’s messages by demonstrating active listening skills and appropriate nonverbal signals.  With written communication exchanges, show your respect by proof-reading what you have written to make sure it isn’t sloppy, or your message is unclear.

Communication Styles

After two decades of research Mark Murphy, A New York Times best-selling author, came to the conclusion that there are four communication styles that people can fall into: analytical, intuitive, functional, and personal. 

building-communication-skills-in-ot

Here are the four styles:

  • Analytical — Loves facts, hard data, unemotional, logical thinker, likes specific language
  • Intuitive — Big picture thinker, likes to be quick and to the point, typically, does not like step-by-step information
  • Functional — Enjoys detail, timelines, and well-thought out plans, enjoys step-by-step communication, can be stuck in the details
  • Personal — Values emotional language and connections/relationships, often thinks in feelings or emotions, the relationship is more important than the information exchange

Communicating With Co-workers

Let’s take some time to think about communicating with your co-workers, patients, caregivers, and other healthcare professionals. 

To be an efficient communicator, it is important to read the audience.  By that, I mean try to interpret what your communication partner’s communication style is.  So, if you are speaking with a parent who just recently found out his child is diagnosed with cancer and this parent is an analytical thinker, then it may be best to approach this with facts and hard data. 

However, given the same scenario but the other parent is a personal communicator, then using facts and hard data may not be the best way to effectively communicate your plan of care.  Rather, it may be a better approach to utilize your therapeutic relationship and active listening skills to convey your message.  This can be especially tricky if your communication style is conflicting with your communication partner’s style of communication. 

It is important to be mindful and adaptable in order to shift your mode of communication in order to effectively transmit your information to your patient, caregiver, or co-worker.

Another huge aspect of communication is our listening.  Active listening is a non-verbal skill that shows your communication partner that you are present and care about the information being shared with you.  This process in communication can often get skipped over in a busy, chaotic healthcare setting which can lead to a communication breakdown or loss of trust. 

communication skills ot

Another way to lose engagement and buy-in from a communication partner can be when we use company lingo or medical jargon.  You can distill complex thoughts and medical information into simple, clear ideas to most effectively translate your messages without using medical jargon or company lingo. 

Keeping your message real and authentic helps your communication trust you, listen to what you have to say, and retain that information.

Difficulty Educating Patients or Getting Buy-in?

Perhaps the way you are conveying your message isn’t easy for the patient to understand.  It is easy for clinicians to think we are breaking information into simple ideas, but often we are not as effective as we may think. 

Since we are experts in our field, it can be challenging to explain complex medical conditions or interventions into easy to understand ideas (I often think about how challenging it can be to explain something as abstract how sensory processing disorder feels to parents).

A strategy I like to use are analogies for patients and caregivers to draw connections as to why this intervention is important.

Summary

Communication skills in OT are fluid and can always be improved upon.  Being an effective communicator is important to be self-reflective because this allows you to modify your behavior so you can more effectively communicate your thoughts and ideas. 

Remember, communication is a skill that we can always fine tune with practice!

 

Resources 

Which Of These 4 Communication Styles Are You? (Forbes)

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