Effective workplace communication with employees with an intellectual disability
- Implementation guide
- Intellectual disabilities, communication and learning
- Talking about talking and listening
- Talking about learning
- Talking about the job
- Talking about tools
- Talking about safety
- Talking about quality and quantity
- Talking about teams and workmates
- Talking about problems
- Talking about changes
- Talking about futures
This section is designed to assist people delivering or co-ordinating staff training to use Work Talk most effectively, either in group training sessions or as an aid to individual, self-paced learning by individual staff members.
The main aim of Work Talk is to bring together information about and strategies for, effective workplace communication between support staff and supported employees in Disability Employment Services. Effective communication is critical in any workplace, particularly between people who have supervisory or supporting roles and the people they are supporting or directing.
The focus is on communication – skills in it, what makes communication effective, how to know when to use particular strategies, and practising those strategies.
Work Talk is designed to be used in a number of ways:
- As a self-paced, independent learning resource.
You may want staff to work through the workbook on their own, and at their own pace. If you are encouraging people to do this, suggest to them that they use the notes section of each topic to record either additional strategies that they use or as a reminder of work situations or interactions with particular people where they are going to use one of the suggested strategies.
- As a resource for assisting to resolve a particular communication difficulty.
Because Work Talk is organised around a range of typical workplace communication situations, it can be a useful tool for tackling communication difficulties. For example if there is a problem with getting the message about safety across to a supported employee, the strategies suggested in Talking about safety might be helpful.
- As a discussion starter at a staff meeting.
Communication issues can often be at the bottom of other workplace problems. A section of Work Talk – perhaps just one of the case studies or a set of strategies – can provide a 'neutral' way of beginning a discussion rather than launching straight into the actual workplace problem.
- As the basis for short training sessions.
The topics in Work Talk are deliberately brief. They can be covered in 30 to 45 minute training sessions. Hints and tips for structuring a training session using a Work Talk topic are included below.
- As part of the resources used to run a longer/more comprehensive training program incorporating communications skills development.
Case studies, diary extracts, strategies or whole topics from Work Talk can be used as resources for communication skills development in other training programs.
In addition to the printed copy of the workbook, your service will have received an accompanying CD which contains a set of .pdf files. They are:
- a file that contains the text of the whole book
- a series of ten files that cover each of the Work Talk topics
- a file that contains this implementation guide.
This gives you the opportunity to print multiple copies of all or parts of the workbook for use by staff. We suggest that if you are planning to use the entire workbook over a period of time you provide each staff member with a folder and add to the materials as you are preparing to use them.
Here are a few hints for conducting a discussion or a training session using Work Talk.
Remember that Work Talk is not formal, accredited training – it's a learning tool and a practical guide to effective communication between support staff and supported employees with an intellectual disability. So it is unlikely that you'll be running formal training. In fact it is a good idea to keep the atmosphere informal.
We've described you as a 'facilitator' quite deliberately. You are helping (assisting, facilitating) people to broaden the range of communication strategies they have at their disposal. This involves giving them access to information (from the materials in the work book and from other sources), assisting them to share their knowledge and experience with others, encouraging them to be open to ideas and suggestions and strategies from others in the group, and developing their awareness of their own skills and learning needs.
It isn't as hard as it sounds, but there are things to remember about what NOT to do as a facilitator. Try not to:
- Dominate. You will have information, knowledge and experience to share, but your primary role is to draw the information and knowledge from other people and relate it to the topic in hand. If you talk for more than 10 minutes in a 30 minute session you've probably said too much.
- Play favourites. You will probably find some peoples' ideas or views are closer to your own than others. Make sure that all opinions get a fair hearing. Remember you and others with knowledge can only help people who have a limited understanding of the topic to understand more, if you know what they are thinking and know already.
- Get side tracked into talking about particular people, workplace issues or problems. Remember in all sessions where you are using Work Talk, the emphasis is on communication skills.
- Make sure you have enough copies of the section or sections of Work Talk that you are using. If you are expecting people to bring their own copy of the workbook, have a few spares – that way there are no problems for the people who forget or have lost their copy or claim they never received one.
- Be clear about what it is about effective communication that you are trying to achieve – information, improved awareness, behaviour change, a resolution to a problem. This lets you evaluate how successful the session has been and will help you to manage the expectations of other people.
- Ensure you are thoroughly familiar with the content of the topic or topics you are covering. Read everything through – preferably more than once. Look at the case studies and diary sections in particular. Think about what messages they contain about effective (or ineffective) communication and how you will help people understand those messages.
- Think about how you want to approach the session. Do you want to ask the questions and for people to provide answers through you? Do you want to let discussion range freely with your role being to bring people back on track if the discussion gets too far away from the topic? In many cases a session will be a combination of the two. When you are thinking about your approach, think about:
- the purpose of the session (information, problem solving, etc)
- the people in the session (are there people who may dominate a free flowing discussion? Are there people who have a lot of information to share but will need to be encouraged to do so?)
- how much time is available (short sessions often benefit from a more formal structure).
- Have a time plan worked out. For example in a 30 minute session you may spend five minutes introducing the topic, 10 minutes talking about the case study, another 10 looking at the strategies and five minutes drawing the threads together and rounding off the session.
Aside from the introduction, each topic follows a standard format.
Each topic is presented over four pages. The first page is a heading and 'preview' of the topic. The second and third contain the background information, case studies, diary notes and strategies. The fourth page is a notes page.
This is theoretical or background information relevant to the topic. For example in topic 1 'Talking about talking and listening', the background information is about effective communication and barriers.
You could use this material by:
- asking people to describe something they have experienced that illustrates the content
- asking people for their reaction to what is said – do they agree, how applicable is it to their situation, etc.
People in the case studies are supported employees and support staff from Merrinvale enterprises.
Merrinvale Enterprises opened in 1972 to provide 'sheltered' employment to people with disabilities. It has undergone many changes in the past 30 years and has been certified under the Disability Service Standards since 2003. In the last financial year, Merrinvale's grant from the government was $980,000, and the business activities generated $2.3 million.
The diagram below describes Merrinvale's structure and business. Merrinvale has 5 divisions including:
Space Cake Cookie Company (supervised by Nathan, with Carmen, Lallie, Alex and Peter the supported employees)
Merri-Clean (supervised by Mai Lin with Lisa and Aaron the supported employees)
Pikkenpak (supervised by Em, with Trevor and Cleo the supported employees)
Frame Up (supervised by Paul, with Annika, Malcolm, Robbie and Van the supported employees)
Grassed Off (supervised by Fran, with Drago and James the supported employees)
A number of the supervisors keep diaries or notes which allow us to see how they deal with some of the challenges in their daily work.
The case studies are put together in a range of ways. In some cases a behaviour or incident is simply described; in others you will also be given insights into the approach to communication with supported employees of Merrinvale's support staff.
The case studies can be used as a basis for discussion. You could explore:
- where they demonstrate effective communication practice
- what may be causing the problems the supervisors are having
- how well the supervisor's experiences match those of people in the group.
Be aware that people might 'recognise' themselves or their own behaviour in the case studies and, in some cases, may not like what they see. This may lead to them defending what was said or done and create conflict in the group. A way to handle that is to deflect the discussion with a question like 'What could Em have done instead?' or 'If you were advising Nathan on this issue, what would you suggest he did?' rather than asking 'What did Em do here that was wrong?'.
These are suggestions for practical ways to improve workplace communication between support staff and supported employees with an intellectual disability. They are just that – suggestions – and will not fit every situation or solve every problem.
As well as reading them through with the group and talking about the ideas they present try:
- brainstorming situations where these strategies would be useful (Remember the rules of brainstorming – all ideas are accepted and recorded. They are only debated or rejected after the brainstorm is finished)
- coming up with additional strategies
- 'acting out' the strategies.
Obviously this last page is designed for people to make their own notes on the topic covered. You might suggest they:
- identify people/situations/tasks where they could use a particular strategy to improve communication
- note down any additional strategies suggested by the group
- keep adding to the notes after the session as they use the strategies – notes could indicate how well (or not well) they worked.