Know Yourself and the

Communication Climate

Introduction. A key to communicating effectively with people who come to the regional center for service is knowing something about your own value system. This sets the stage for understanding how your personal values affect: (1) your behavior; (2) your relationships with others; and, (3) your communication.

An effective service coordinator must develop the ability to work with an individual (family, or conservator) without being overly influenced by his or her own personal value system. For example, take a few minutes to think about the following situations you are likely to encounter as a service coordinator on a daily basis:

Do you value punctuality? How would your communication be affected if you meet with a family who is habitually late?

Do you value hard work? How is your communication affected when you work with people who are not interested in finding or keeping a job?

What are your feelings about two working parent families? How is your communication affected if a request for day care assistance is made?

What would you feel about learning that the mother of a child with a developmental disability used drugs during pregnancy? How is your communication about services and supports affected by this information?

Cultural differences affect your communication. For example, in some cultures, a child with a disability lives with the family and extended family as long as they are alive. Consider the following situations as they are affected by your own culture and experience and how they might affect your communication:

You value independence. How is your communication affected if a family does not consider their child living anywhere other than their home.

In some cultures, people do not make eye contact with a person of authority. How is your communication affected?

Some cultures value outspoken communication. Can you successfully communicate with someone who is blunt, demanding and outspoken?

In some cultures, people do not outwardly express appreciation for what you do. Do you have an expectation that someone seeking services ought to seem grateful? Does that affect your communication?

Awareness is a key to successful communication. Our culture and life experience can be either a bridge or a barrier to effective communication. In order to be an effective communicator and service coordinator, it's important to:

1. Recognize that each of us is a walking system of values. We must try to be aware of how those values affect us daily in both the way we experience life and the way we communicate those experiences to others.

2. Be aware of our personal biases. One useful tool (Brill) is to become sensitive to the use of the term they. This is a term that often implies a personal bias toward someone for a belief or value that is different from our own. Awareness of these biases can help overcome barriers which affect successful communication.

3. Strive to respect the differences of others. Each person receiving services deserves to be treated with an understanding of their background and a respect for their personal beliefs and values.

Question your beliefs. The successful service coordinator integrates his or her personal self with his or her professional self during each communication interaction. Below, you will find some questions (Fils) that service coordinators might ask themselves before a communication interaction. These questions (which have been adapted) may serve as a way to identify your personal values and how they might influence the way in which you communicate with an individual or family. There are now right or wrong answers to the following:

1. Am I comfortable in working with this individual (or family, or conservator)?

2. Am I aware of my own limitations or biases in working with this individual (or family, or conservator)?

3. Do I believe that this individual (or family, or conservator) ought to be in control of his or her future, make decisions about his or her life, and take responsibility for his or her actions in whatever way?

4. Will I feel comfortable if this individual (or family, or conservator) does not accept my advise as he or she makes decisions about his or her future?

If answer any of these questions with a no, consider asking for support from a peer or your supervisor in working with this individual (family, or conservator). Support can be anything from talking about how your feelings might influence your communication to consideration of working as a team with another service coordinator.

Predicting the weather or setting the stage for a positive communication climate. Once you have some awareness of your personal belief system and how it affects your communication, it's time to start thinking about the communication climates you encounter every day. Each time we communicate with others, we experience a different communication climate which is made up of the tone, the mood and the attitude of those people involved in the communication. The effectiveness of any communication may depend on the ability of the service coordinator to create a positive climate.

Indicators of a positive communication climate include:

Empathy Empathy is "entering imaginatively into the inner life of someone else." (Kadushin). Empathy has two important aspects: (1) the perception of the life experience of another (along with the feeling generated by that perception); and, (2) the communication of that perception. A service coordinator does not have to have any experience with individuals who have disabilities to try to understand how a person feels at a particular time. We are all people first!

Descriptiveness Descriptiveness means "putting into words the behaviors you have observed or the feelings you have." (Verderber) For the effective service coordinator, this means describing individuals (families, or conservators), behaviors, or encounters without labeling them good or bad, right or wrong.

The skill of descriptiveness works in both oral as well as written communication. For example, look at the difference between

"Mary treated us to a major tantrum in the lobby."


"Mary was crying and screamed twice at me in the lobby."

Phrasing ideas tentatively Acknowledging that the other person has a viewpoint and letting it be heard. For example, an individual may be asking for something that the service coordinator might consider unrealistic. An effective service coordinator can hear the point of view and feed it back without adding a personal bias or expectation.

Equality Equality means simply being on the same level, or seeing others as worthwhile as one's self (Verderber). Projecting an air of superiority, or encouraging a perception that one is superior results in a negative rather than a positive communication climate. An effective service coordinator may is conscious of facial expressions, dress, and the physical layout of the area in which the communication occurs.

Creating a positive communication climate. The following are strategies for creating climates of positive communication:

· Avoid making assumptions - Avoid drawing conclusions before meeting with an individual or a family based on written information. Read only what you need to ask informed questions.

· Avoid jargon and explain technical terms - Use conversational language with individuals and families, and explain any technical terms. Service coordinators should refer to service agencies by name as opposed to initials, and explain terms such as behavioral intervention, authorizations, etc.

· Share complete and unbiased information - Share results of assessments with people in their entirety, giving individuals and families information with which to make informed choices. Avoid screening information based on personal values.

· Offer suggestions to individuals, but be certain that its clear that the suggestions are not the only options - Share advice with individuals and families, letting them know all other possibilities. Be supportive if they choose another option.

· Don't be afraid to say "I don't know." Be honest with people. Everyone appreciates a service coordinator who will look into the questions and get back to the person or family with the answer.

· Recognize differences in the way people acknowledge and understand information.- Explain information to people using a variety of aids (e.g., drawings, pictures) if necessary. Allow time for processing information, and answering questions.

· Strive for equality - Meet with individuals in a location where they are comfortable. If the meeting is at the regional center office, make the room comfortable for a discussion. Sitting behind a desk will likely convey professional distance.

· Respect cultural differences - Ask the focus person who ought to be invited to meetings. This will likely vary from person to person and family to family.

· Pay attention and respond to nonverbal cues - Be aware of body language of all parties.


Becker, B. 1988. The Art of Communicating. Los Altos, CA: CRISP Publications, Inc.

Edelman, L., Greenland, B., and Mills, B. L. 1993. Family Centered Communication Skills, St. Paul, MN: Pathfinder Resources.

Fortini-Campbell, L., May, M., Kangas, M., and Bailey, P. 1978. A Communicator's Handbook. Seattle, WA: Western States Technical Assistance Resource.

Kadushin, A. The Social Work Interview. 1972. New York, NY: Columbia University Press.

Verderber, K.S. and Verderber, R. 1977. InterAct: Using Interpersonal Communication Skills, Belmont, CA: Wadsworth Publishing.