Person centred communication is key to our success post-pandemic

By Ashley King, March 2022


Re-connecting with person centred values

What a ride we’ve been on for the past two years. With the seeming ‘light’ at the end of the tunnel, many organizations, like my own, are starting to bring their gaze up from being in survival mode, and looking forward to finally being able to put in place some future-focused planning and development.

You, like me, may also feel uneasy about what’s to come and what this ‘new normal’ looks like. And that’s okay. Actually, I've been wondering how we can actively shape the ‘new normal’ and not just be reactive, as we've had to be. And have come to the conclusion that person centred communication is the key to turning things around.

Re-connecting to person centred values through communication can be done in a multitude of ways. If you’re a leader in a healthcare organization, you can start to slowly re-establish relationships. If you’re in direct care and direct practice, reconnecting with families, our residents, and other community stakeholders will encourage person centred practices and breathe life back into our organizations and reminds us what we do best - care for people.

If you missed last month's Pathways webinar on providing supportive person centred care communication practices, you can watch it here. As with most webinars, we could only scratch the surface of a topic, which could be discussed for hours.

In follow up to our webinar, this article expands on the principles and practices touched on throughout the session. This is not a specific list of requirements to meet person centred communication practices post-pandemic, but a series of suggestions for you to consider and start ‘where you are’ and take the time you have to begin to get the ball rolling with person centred communication practices.

Consider your Five Key Audiences to Reconnect with

When thinking about who we can reconnect with post-pandemic, it is helpful to consider who is a true champion of your work or your organization. Who do you appreciate feedback from, who speaks highly of you or your organization to others, and who have you simply not had time or opportunity to connect with throughout the pandemic, with the exception of providing updates or quick check-ins.

Our Residents

How can we improve their quality of life and what are their wishes post-pandemic?

Whether you are providing direct care or leading an organization, this means reconnecting with our residents by asking questions to understand their struggles and aspirations. How they’re feeling post-pandemic, and what they’d like to see in the future, and what wishes they have for themselves and their care.

Family & Care Partners

How can we involve them to enrich the overall experience?

When we think about our organizations prior to the onset of the pandemic, families helped shape the vibrant communities and hustle and bustle of our organizations. If we consider the evolving relationship we’ve had with families throughout the pandemic, so much of our communications have been focused on safety, mitigating risk, and visitation. Reconnecting with families for both leadership and care providers can start to shift toward the ‘new normal’, continuing to communicate about the prevalence of Covid-19 in the home, but we can also start to support and engage families as care partners once again, and help them to see the value in having them as a resource and support for their loved ones who are living under our care.

Staff & Colleagues

How do we as teams help each other to create the atmosphere we want?

We have spent the majority of our time ensuring we have proper PPE practices, changing memos and directions for Pandemic Response, and generally having conversations that organically steer toward the latest policy decision, or most recent clinical trial or research study around the effects of Covid-19. As we ‘reset’ our communications, how do we honour what we’ve been through, yet look forward with positive, and encouraging communication. Additionally, ‘checking in’ with our staff and colleagues post-pandemic will be key to understanding how we can grow and build from here. Through both our discussions with colleagues and staff teams, and in our documentation and updates if in a position of leadership, we can begin to set the tone, and encourage collaboration and forward momentum. Slowly, we can start to focus on ‘what’s next’, which is so needed right now.

Volunteers & Service Providers

How do we rebuild these vital relationships?

For many of us, when we were faced with the onset of the pandemic, volunteers and service providers were asked to stay home as we navigated through ever-changing directives and infection control protocols. Now, with significant changes in our staffing capacities, volunteers and service providers can provide significant support in maintaining the quality of life and quality of care for our residents. As staff, checking in with our volunteers who haven’t been in the building for possibly two years, and as leadership, solidifying our passion for supporting our volunteer contingent, can help our volunteers and service providers feel like and be meaningful parts of our organizations.

Community and Local Organizations

How do we reconnect with the wider community?

Our community connections and ‘Cheerleaders’, are wonderful, supportive stakeholders who share the value of our organizations with the wider community and help to spread a positive reputation in our respective communities. As we’ve continued to mitigate the risk of Covid-19 throughout the past two years, we have, very understandably, had to put our community partnerships and relationships on the back burner until the threat of Covid subsides. Now is a wonderful time to begin reconnecting with your ‘cheerleaders’ - communicate your vision, the status of your organization, and how you look forward to the future. Providing a sense of belonging will help reengage your community resources and organizations and reignite that passion to support your mission.

Lead with empathy

Refocusing on communication doesn’t need to be a grandiose gesture. Small, incremental changes can significantly impact culture, and wellbeing of the many stakeholders, colleagues and residents you interact with daily. Simply by re-establishing the relationships we’ve made with our colleagues, volunteers, and others, we can start to build strong momentum toward a positive culture that is grounded in good, quality communication.

For those in leadership, asking our teams to focus on their communication when connecting with the people they care for and support, sets a precedent for positive communication and reconnection with values that is so important post-pandemic.

Encouraging one another, and focusing ourselves, on communicating with empathy, and compassion is key in developing person centred communications. When we think of communication as learning, and that verbal, and nonverbal communication is an attempt to convey an emotion and a thought, we can further empathize with the person we are communicating with and better understand the why and what they’re attempting to communicate with us.

How to Embody Inclusive Communication Practices to Cultivate Person Centred Communications

As I identified during the Pathways webinar, we often teach about inclusive communication practices for supporting those living with dementia, but creating a culture of inclusion is good for everybody, and the foundational principles of inclusive communication span far beyond supporting those living with dementia, and can in fact provide great foundational knowledge on person centred communication. The most important tip for communicating inclusively is to lead with empathy. Here are a few key tips for developing empathetic communications.

Active Listening - This one is the top of the list for all communication suggestions, and this list is no different. Taking the time to truly listen to what someone is saying is key in creating person centred communication practices. Asking questions to better understand why they’re saying what they’re saying, or what they’re feeling, shows your engagement, and also allows the person, or people you’re communicating with, to think about the discussion topic by further articulating it. When speaking with residents, adapt your communication style to support them in discussion by reducing distractions, using direct sentences or words, and maintaining eye contact with your resident when speaking with them.

Open your Perspective - when you approach a conversation with an open mind and without a preconceived idea, you can be more open to a collaborative discussion that involves communication from both parties. Calmly, and openly approaching any and all conversations, will allow you to take pause and reflect on where the conversation is going and your feeling at that moment in time. Take time to think and consider any ideas or suggestions that are being made by the person you’re speaking with.

Focus on How you’re Communicating - When approaching conversations, if we take even a few moments to consider ‘how’ we are communicating something, versus just thinking about the words or the outcome we expect to have in the conversation, allows us to think about how we can alter and adjust our communication to be inclusive to who you’re speaking to. Post-pandemic, many of our conversations, especially for those of us in leadership, can embody compassion and understanding when speaking with almost any stakeholder, be it residents, families or staff.

Adjust Perspective on how others are perceiving your message - Once we’ve started to focus on how we’re communicating, we can also start to consider how others may be receiving the message we’re communicating. How might they perceive this message? What questions might they ask? How might they react to this message - with verbal or nonverbal communication. Considering all of these aspects can help you to adapt and adjust your communication in preparation and support of the person you’re communicating with.

Creativity in Communication - We can always learn more and practice good communication. One key thing to remember, especially with this list of considerations, is to have fun when communicating. Permit yourself to be creative, to try new communication efforts and ‘try on’ a different way of communicating to see how you, and the receivers of your communication, like it. One way I’m creative with my communication, is to incorporate jokes into my staff meetings - I treat it like I’m speaking with a group of friends or close colleagues to elicit engagement and connection with my staff.

Work to cultivate Positive Relationships - By taking the time to get to know, and, I can’t stress this enough, have mutual respect for the resident/family/stakeholder, you will set forth a culture of inclusion and engagement of those involved. Mutual respect and positive relationships are key in developing a relationship built on trust and compassion.

Mindfulness of Non-Verbal Cues - Last, but certainly not least, it’s important for us to be mindful of our own non-verbal cues, as well as watch for non-verbal cues delivered by the person you’re communicating with. The body may say what the words aren’t saying, so watching for non-verbal cues can help to tell the whole story.

Positive and inclusive communication can be all-encompassing, yet it can also be small, and incremental changes that slowly, over time, incorporate a culture of positive and engaged stakeholders, residents and staff. By adopting even one or two of these principles, you can start to increase your momentum going forward, post-pandemic, to incorporate a positive culture of communication and an organizational culture built on respect and compassion at all levels. Whether you’re a leader, or a care partner or care provider, we all have a role to play in creating an inclusive and compassionate culture of caring for the various roles and responsibilities people have within our home.

Related Courses and Consulting

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Dementia: Understanding the Journey

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Professional Development

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