Communication skills

Effective communication benefits everyone. It helps improve relationships, increase understanding, and model positive interactions.
Educators sitting at a table

How does good communication help?

When you communicate effectively, you build a shared understanding and a partnership with the other person.

This has benefits for everyone. Here are just a few.

  • Improved relationships: Honest, respectful communication builds trust, which, in turn, allows people to be open about their thoughts and feelings. Others are more likely to share information with you if they feel listened to and understood.
  • A better understanding of what’s happening at home: When children, young people and families communicate effectively and there’s an issue, you’re well placed to learn how it might affect the child or young person. You’ll also know how the young person or family would like you to manage it or what supports might be helpful and appropriate.
  • Families understand the learning environment: When you communicate effectively, families are better able to understand the child or young person’s strengths and can work with you to address any challenges. They’ll also feel more involved in their child or young person’s experiences in the learning community.
  • You model positive social interactions: This is an important part of children and young people’s social development.
Communication is especially important when thinking about mental health and wellbeing.

We know that that early intervention leads to better health outcomes. Effective communication with children, young people and families means that if issues come up, families and educators are able to share information, respond early and consistently, and seek additional support if required.

  • Key communication skills

    Information-sharing

    This helps everyone in the learning community to:

    • be aware of a child or young person’s strengths and challenges
    • develop a common understanding
    • work together to support all individuals’ wellbeing and development
    • support one another.

    Information that may be helpful to communicate includes:

    • the child or young person’s interests, strengths and challenging behaviours
    • social supports outside the early learning service or school
    • developmentally appropriate and expected behaviours
    • family expectations and circumstances
    • the learning community’s expectations and practices.

    This is spoken and includes face-to-face conversations or phone calls.

    Non-verbal communication

    This can be written or electronic (such as emails). It can also include people’s body language, tone of voice, gestures and facial expressions during face-to-face conversations. We sometimes rely on non-verbal communication more than words to convey meaning and understanding throughout a conversation. This is especially so when trying to communicate complex feelings, ideas and concepts.

    Empathy

    Empathy shows the other person you understand their perspective without passing judgment. It communicates respect and acceptance, which helps to build trust. It doesn’t mean you have to agree with each other, but it means being able to respect and accept differences.

    When educators, children, young people and families show empathy ­– when they try to see things from each other’s point of view ­– it creates a greater sense of connectedness. For example, when a family is too busy to stop and chat at pick-up time, having empathy means understanding how stressful it can be when time is limited.

    Ways to be empathetic toward others include:

    • showing respect for other people’s point of view, even when you don’t agree
    • having a sense of goodwill or kindness
    • valuing the experience, knowledge and commitment others bring to a partnership
    • being aware of the difficulties and challenges others face.
    Active listening

    To listen to someone properly, you need to tune in and give them your full attention.

    Active listening involves:

    1. Attending: To show you’re available and focused on the speaker, create a comfortable space for the conversation, make appropriate eye contact and use attentive body language such as nodding, leaning forward and smiling. You can use minimal acknowledgers, such as ‘mm’ and ‘uh-huh’, which encourage people to continue speaking and are very effective in helping the speaker feel that you’re interested in what they’re saying.
    2. Following: It’s important to keep the conversation going. You can use open and closed questions, encouraging body language or verbal sounds and clarifying queries. These prompts show you're engaged with what’s being said, without interrupting the flow of the speaker. Open questions encourage more detailed responses, rather than a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answer. For example, “What are your concerns about your child?” or “Tell me how it happened?”
    3. Pauses and silences: Pausing encourages the other person to continue talking, and silences are useful when they’re still thinking about what’s been said. A person might open up more when you resist the temptation to fill a silence.
    4. Reflecting: When you put what someone’s said into your own words, you show them you’re listening, and that you understand what they mean. This involves rephrasing what you’ve heard. Reflection encourages others to express themselves further and helps them trust the conversation. It also shows you have empathy for their situation. It is powerful to reflect the feeling of what someone’s saying or showing through their body language. Reflection helps a person feel they've been listened to and can prevent misunderstandings. After you reflect back to someone what you’ve heard, they can confirm the accuracy of your impression, or correct it.
    5. Prioritising: Focusing a conversation on the main content helps ensure the most pressing needs are discussed. For example, say “I can hear that there is a lot going on for you right now. Can you tell me what the most urgent issue is for you right now, so we can focus on that?”
  • Communication barriers

    Sometimes we can behave in ways, or say things, that affect the flow of communication, even when we don’t mean to. 

    Some things to consider when you’re communicating include:

    • Timing: Is this a good time to answer this question? How urgent is this question? Do I have the time to give this person my full attention? If time is limited, you can say something like, “I only have five minutes right now, but could we meet at...” This lets the person know the conversation is important, even if you can’t attend to it right away.
    • Environment: Is this a good place to have this conversation? Perhaps privacy is a concern.
    • Your feelings: Consider how you might be feeling about what’s been said – upset, confused, angry, calm? When you’re emotional, you’re more likely to misread other people or respond hastily. 
    • Family background: Culture, personal values and beliefs that may be different to your own can affect communication. So too can cultural differences. For example, in some cultures it’s fine for people to directly decline an invitation or say that they disagree with someone. In other cultures, this isn’t polite, and people prefer to say nothing rather than to say “No”.
    • Distractions: You can’t communicate effectively when you’re multitasking. If you’re distracted by your own thoughts or planning what you’re going to say next, you’re likely to miss nonverbal cues in the conversation. Try to avoid distractions and stay focused.
    • Different agendas: Listen to what the other person wants to discuss and try not to be distracted by what you think is most important.
    • Dismissing: Don’t be reassuring when there may not be a positive outcome – for example, saying “You’ll be fine”.
    • Judging: You don’t have to agree with someone else’s views, but you do need to set aside your own judgment, blame or criticism to fully understand their point of view.
    The way you communicate within your learning community is important.

    It will influence how much trust you place in each other, how much information you share, and therefore how well placed you are to support children, young people and families when issues arise. Clear, honest and empathic communication goes a long way in developing a positive and respectful relationships, including partnerships with families.

    The good news is communication skills are easy to learn – they just require practice.

    Be You Professional Learning

    Learn more about how to have conservations with children and young people about their wellbeing the module Inquire.