Understanding How Collaborative Communication Works in Supporting Your Child’s Needs

September 21, 2021
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Lisa Math B.S., CRPS-F Director, Family S.T.A.R. program Family Network on Disabilities

Once a parent or caregiver learns a child has a disability, they begin a journey through a maze of providers, resources, and services. Teams of service providers will create plans to provide and assess those services. The parents, and their natural supports, should be active participants in the process. Understanding how to communicate one’s needs, and the role collaborative efforts play in the success of the child and family, is critical.

Before We Can Talk Collaboration, We Need to Understand Communication

All communication has two parts: a sender and a receiver. Factors determine how the message is interpreted by the receiver. Approximately 10% of our communication is only our spoken words, 30% is the tone in which we deliver our message, and 60% is our body language. Body language is a type of a nonverbal communication in which physical behaviors, as opposed to words, are used to express or convey the information.

Listeners use two forms of listening styles: Active and Passive. Active listening is when you make a conscious effort to hear not only the words but the message. Active listening requires engagement of the listener and using actions to be engaged. Here are some suggestions:

• Withhold judgment about what’s being said. • Do not interrupt while the other person is speaking.

• Observe facial expressions, tone of voice, and other behaviors of the speaker.

• Aim for eye contact about 60-70% of the time while you are listening.

• Be mindful of your body language.

• Show interest by asking questions and paraphrase what’s been said to confirm you understand.

• Practice the act of active listening.

Passive listening is little more than hearing. Passive listening is one-way communication where the receiver doesn’t provide feedback or ask questions. In passive listening, the listener may appear to be listening to the speaker, but makes no effort to understand the message.

How Collaborative Communication Works

Collaborative communication is the process of communication in which all participants are equally valued for what they bring to the discussion. Successful collaboration is about building a consensus. There are three areas to address:

• Opinions – everyone comes to the table with lived experience, knowledge, values, and thoughts on the subject. Respect those personal thoughts and beliefs.

• Perspectives- multiple perspectives help in problem-solving and brainstorming options to find solutions. Flexibility is key to accepting other viewpoints and allowing for open dialogue.

• Rights of all Parties – not just legal rights, but the right to speak without interruption, the right to disagree, and the right to ask questions.

Barriers to Effective Collaboration

These are some of the obstacles that impact successful interactions:

• Negative History – can include your own experiences, or things you’ve been told by other people, or what others bring to the discussion.

• Health – if a person is not physically feeling well, has chronic conditions, or is struggling with emotional issues, it will impact their communication and ability to interact.

• Emotional Responses – framing the conversation around the problems and weaknesses, instead of the strengths and solutions.

• Jargon and Acronyms – All systems of care and providers use words and acronyms that may be unfamiliar to the participants.

• Fear or Intimidation – It’s common for parents/caregivers to feel overwhelmed by the number of professionals sitting at the table, or their own lack of knowledge.

Ways in Which You May Use Collaborative Communication

Collaborative Communication is a useful strategy to use in many aspects of daily life. It’s not just for working to secure services for an individual. This style of communication can help ensure that needs are met and successful outcomes can be achieved. Here are some areas in which to incorporate Collaborative Communication:

• Working with co-workers

• Accessing personal resources • Working with professionals and providers in different systems

• Securing school services • Working with others to complete a project

• Planning family events

As we move through our experiences as parents supporting our children’s needs, it’s important to use our voices and bring the important information we have to the collaboration efforts. By incorporating the strategies in collaborative manners of communication, we help ensure our child’s success.

Lisa Math B.S., CRPS-F, is the Director of the Family S.T.A.R. (Support, Training, Assistance, Resources) Program for Family Network on Disabilities. She has utilized this information while navigating services for her child throughout the years, and it has proven successful. Family Network on Disabilities is a state-wide organization that provides disability information, resources, training, and support to families, caregivers, and youth to age 26, and to related professionals and providers across the state at no charge.

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