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Posted by on Mar 2021 in All Stories, Features, Member Support, Slider, Uncategorized | 0 comments

Understanding the communication process: Skills for housing providers

Game piece cubes engraved with images of speech bubbles sit on a plain surface.

Clear communication skills are essential for housing providers; this is especially so in a supportive housing environment. When working closely with individuals with a variety of lived experiences and abilities, you must take extra care in your messaging and how you deliver it.  

While this is critical knowledge for supportive housing providers, much of this information, pulled from ONPHA’s online course, Supportive housing core competencies: Enhancing your skills, is relevant to any interaction where information must be delivered clearly and in a sensitive manner. Read on to learn more about the communication process.

The three-step process 

A diagram of the communication process. The Sender develops the message, chooses a communication channel (verbal, telephone, email, voicemail, social media, then it goes to the receiver who decodes the message and formulates a response.  Background noise is represented as influencing all the communication steps.

The communication process involves a sender, a message, and a recipient. The ‘channel’ refers to how you send the message (verbally, telephone, email, etc.).   

Step 1: Determine the message 

As the messenger, your first step is to figure out what you want to say and how to say it. You need to determine the purpose of your message. Is it to: 

  • look for or provide information 
  • show understanding or empathy 
  • instruct, guide, or motivate others 
  • explore, uncover and validate strength 

Once you know what you need to say, you can organize your content: 

  • Sort through the details so you can accurately compose your message 
  • Think about who is receiving the message  
  • Select the right words, the right tone, the right vocabulary, the right body language (where applicable), etc. 

The process of formulating the message is known as encoding and can be a complicated task. 

Step 2: Send the message 

Your message should reflect: 

  • your knowledge of the recipient 
  • your relationship with them 
  • the reason they need the information 

Knowing the recipient and the message will affect not only what you say but how you say it.  It will affect your choice of words, the tone, and the speed with which you share your message. Consider factors that might affect how they will process your message including age, gender, culture, history of trauma, and emotional state. 

The words you use are only a fraction of the message itself. Your tone, voice, and body language can have a great impact on how your message is received.

Dr. Albert Mehrabian's 7-38-55% rule represents the weight the different elements of personal communication have. 7% of the impact is from the spoken words, 38% is from voice and tone, and 55% of the impact comes from body language.

Step 3: Monitoring your message 

Your main goal in communication should be to avoid confusion as the result of factors such as: 

  • the recipient not listening attentively 
  • the recipient drawing premature conclusions 
  • confusion caused by physical and/or mental conditions 
  • emotional intensity 
  • language barriers 

It’s important to keep in mind that past experience with homelessness and trauma can impact how a message is received. 

Here are some tips to help ensure the recipient receives the message clearly: 

  • Communicate just one message at a time. Don’t confuse the receiver with multiple messages that will make it more difficult for the recipient to process. 
  • Keep written communications and community posts simple, clear, and to the point. 
  • Express your message in clear language; don’t use jargon. 
  • Use the appropriate medium. Detailed messages should be delivered in written form. Use pictures and diagrams, where appropriate. 
  • Give examples to support your message. 
  • Listen and ask the resident/tenant to put in their own words what they understood from your message. 
  • Observe non-verbal cues and body language that will help you confirm whether the message is understood as you intended. 
  • Be mindful of how words impact the resident. Use a trauma-informed approach
  • Develop a relationship with the tenant/resident. This will help you choose the right words and delivery method. 
  • Be patient and be prepared to try a different way to send the message if your message is misunderstood.
  • Don’t take it personally if the tenant/resident becomes upset. Be prepared to calm the situation with a validating approach. 

For long-range planning, it can be useful to create a plan with tenants/residents in advance so if there’s a time when they are not well enough to function, you are aware how to assist them in their resident care.

Are you a supportive housing provider? Do you support individuals living with challenges related to mental health and/or addictions? Check out ONPHA’s online course, Supportive housing core competencies: Enhancing your skills.  

Have questions about difficult tenant interactions? Contact us at member.support@onpha.org. We’re always happy to hear from you, and to help! 

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