How do you facilitate communication?

A key to engaging people is to acknowledge them in a pleasant and accepting manner communicating warmth and genuineness. The person may feel nervous and uncertain of the new relationship with you and may be sensitive to your communication style.

Past experiences in relationships with others may mean people have difficulty trusting you. Following up on what clients/young people have agreed to will result in those people feeling valued and assist in building trust.

Where clients may have experienced stigma from the general community, and lack of follow-through with other agencies, it becomes important to prove yourself as a trustworthy worker. Your organisation will be measured by your actions. You need to adhere to time frames and appointments even if the client/young person does not.

Keeping a client/young person’s confidence in the manner agreed to, within the organisational policy framework, is essential. It means being clear with a client from the beginning about the boundaries within which you work and then demonstrating over time your ability to work within that agreed framework. A client/young person will feel valued, for instance, if you let them know that you will only record exactly what they say to you and that they are entitled to read what you write.

Being predictable and consistent when the rest of the world is changing for them is also a key to demonstrating that you are trustworthy. Irrespective of how the person reacts, you should always demonstrate integrity and trustworthiness.

Warmth, empathy, and genuineness are described as critical aspects of helping relationships. Some experts go so far as to suggest that if these three characteristics are present, effective helping relationships will develop naturally.

Information gathering and sharing is very important in community and disability service work to enable the worker to understand the client’s needs and to give the client the necessary information required to empower them.

When you are interviewing a client, it is important to use expressive forms of communication, including:

  • paraphrasing
  • reflection
  • confrontation
  • interpretation
  • non-verbal communication.

Important note: Before we consider these techniques, a word of caution is in order. Techniques such as these cannot be learned through reading, any more than warmth, empathy, and genuineness can. They can be learned, but it takes supervised practice.


Paraphrasing is putting a person’s words into a new form in order to clarify what has been said. It may involve simply repeating a word or phrase that captures the essence of the communication or using entirely new words.


Listen to an example on paraphrasing

 (245Kb MP3 file)

(If you cannot hear this please open the transcript in the text version below)

Text version (Word Document 25KB)

The repetition of important, emotion-filled words or the rephrasing of the content of the communication serves two functions.
  1. It communicates to the client that he or she has been heard and encourages him or her to continue.
  2. It gives the client the opportunity to correct the counsellor if the counsellor has missed the meaning of the communication.


Reflection involves the identification and expression of the client’s feelings. If those feelings are reflected back to the client, they will be brought to the forefront of the client’s awareness. The client is therefore more likely to be enabled to deal with those feelings.


 (184Kb MP3 file)

(If you cannot hear this please open the transcript in the text version below)

Text version (Word Document 25KB)

A client’s feelings may at times be obvious both to the client and to the community and disability service worker.

At other times, the person may be less aware of the feelings that he or she is experiencing and that are influencing their behaviour.

When the counsellor is able to hear between the lines and accurately reflect those feelings back to the client, the client often perceives that he or she is deeply understood. The client is encouraged to look more closely at himself or herself. This opens the possibility of exploring the relationship between the new feelings of awareness and the client’s behaviour.

Through this process, reflection reduces the inconsistency between what the client feels and the client’s words and behaviour. Reflection has the potential of increasing congruence and genuineness.


Confrontation involves bringing the client face-to-face with his or her denials, discrepancies between feelings and behaviour, or unpleasant realities. Since many clients deny their strengths and assets, confrontation is also used to help them recognise these positive aspects of themselves. The purpose of confrontation is not to attack but to push the client toward self-awareness and change within a supportive atmosphere.


 (223Kb MP3 file)

(If you cannot hear this please open the transcript in the text version below)

Text version (Word Document 25KB)

Confrontation is a risky technique when used improperly or to excess. If the client feels attacked or demeaned, he or she may become alienated from the community and disability service worker.

Confrontations that are improperly timed or too aggressive may undo previous progress in the development of a helping relationship.

Confrontation is a device that must be used sparingly and within a supportive atmosphere.


Interpretation involves the human service worker in a process of placing the client’s communication and behaviour in a broader or different framework. It is an attempt to enable the client to see his or her behaviour from a different perspective. Effective interpretation results in new self-understanding for the client, and that understanding may help the client see underlying motivations for particular behaviours or reasons for particular feelings. Effective interpretation requires that the human service worker has an accurate understanding of the client’s situation at that moment.

Non-verbal communication

Another significant aspect of communication involves non-verbal behaviour. People can communicate volumes about themselves and their reactions to others without the need for spoken dialogue. Sensitivity to your own and others’ non-verbal communication can facilitate the development of effective helping skills. The reverse is also true. If you are not aware of non-verbal communications, you may transmit incomplete or even discrepant messages.

Some forms of non-verbal communication are obvious. Care must be taken, as such gestures often cut across cultural boundaries and can lead to a breakdown in the communication process.

  • The clenched hand with thumb up in the air or pointing down to indicate that things are good or bad, is a case in point.
  • Arms spread wide and extended towards a person may represent an invitation to closeness.
  • The arm stretched toward a person with the palm upraised may indicate that the other person should stop or stay distant.

Posture and body movement may communicate feelings that cannot be expressed verbally, perhaps even things a person is not consciously aware of.

  • A slouching posture may indicate depression, hopelessness, or lack of interest on the part of a client.
  • The counsellor who sits leaning slightly towards the client communicates interest.
  • The client who sits stiffly and rigidly may be unaware of his or her own tension and discomfort, but the observant counsellor still can ‘hear’ the communication and respond to it. 
  • Squirming, tapping fingers, wringing hands, pacing, and rocking the body are all behaviours that carry messages about the feelings and attitudes of clients and counsellors.

The face is one of the most expressive body parts.

People communicate joy, concern, fear, anxiety, anger, and depression through facial movement.

Smiles, frowns, widened eyes, a dropped jaw, narrowed eyes, tears, and slack features all contain messages that must be heard and reflected, perhaps confronted and interpreted.

If you are sensitive to both verbal and non-verbal communications, you have a greater opportunity to fully understand a client. The counsellor who is aware of their own non-verbal communications will have a greater degree of awareness of their own feelings about the client. A non-verbally aware counsellor can also use non-verbal communication to respond to the client.

Non-verbal communication can both add to and detract from personal relationships. All people are aware to some degree of their own and others’ non-verbal messages. As your awareness increases, personal relationship skills are enhanced.

Last modified: Wednesday, 5 December 2018, 3:30 PM