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close this bookEducation for Health (WHO, 1988, 274 p.)
close this folderChapter 2: People working with people
View the document(introduction...)
View the documentEstablishing good relationships
View the documentCommunicating clearly
View the documentEncouraging participation
View the documentAvoiding prejudice and bias

Communicating clearly

Every day of our lives we try to share ideas, feelings, and information with other people. This is known as 'communication'. Talking is the most common way of communicating, but there are many others, for example: writing, making hand and body movements, drawing, singing, and so on. Many of the educational methods that we will discuss later are in fact communication methods. Communication skills are needed in health education.

Communication is part of our normal relationship with other people. A good relationship cannot exist without some sharing of ideas, feelings, and information. Likewise sharing happens most easily between people who have a good relationship. Building good relationships with people as discussed in the previous section goes hand in hand with developing communication skills. Three important skills needed for good communication are discussed below.

Talking and presenting clearly

The goal of communication is to make sure that people hear, see, and understand the message (idea or feeling) that is being shared with them. Therefore it is important to talk, write, or present this message clearly and simply.

First, use words that people will understand. Many words relating to health care, such as immunization, disinfection, antiseptic, hypertension, and tuberculosis, will be unfamiliar to people. Find simple, common words to explain what is meant. For example, say 'make very clean' for disinfect. Find out the local names for diseases. A health worker who participates in community activities and knows about the local culture will be able to use words and ideas that are familiar to the people.

Another aspect of clear communication is using as few words as possible. A long lecture will bore people. They will miss or forget the message.

When educational methods based on materials such as posters, films, and photographs are used, it is necessary for people to be familiar with those methods. A method that is strange to people may not communicate the right idea. Make sure all words, written or spoken, used to educate people, are clear and simple.

Listening and giving attention

Communication involves both giving and receiving. Not only should the health worker speak clearly to the community, he or she must listen carefully to its members in order to understand their interests and ideas.

Listening is a way of showing respect. Pay close attention to what people tell you. Encourage them to speak freely. Do not stop them, interrupt them, or begin to argue. This will cut off communication, and you may get only half the message, or nothing at all.


The art of listening is very important in health education. By listening carefully, the health worker learns how a person feels about a problem and the reasons for his or her behavior. Then, it becomes possible to help the person find appropriate solutions.

While listening, do not look at something else. Do not busy yourself with work while the other person is talking. If you do these things, the other person will think you do not care about him or her.

Discussing and clarifying

After listening, it is important to make sure you have heard the other person correctly. Similarly, after talking, you should find out if the other person has heard you correctly. Asking questions can help clarify what someone said. Never be afraid to ask questions. Questions can make communication between people more accurate.

It is also good to summarize. After listening, try briefly to tell the other person what you think was said. Then ask the person if you have understood their ideas and meaning. Do the same when you do the talking: encourage the other person to summarize your words. Then you will know whether what you said was understood. This kind of discussion between people leads to good communication.

Here is something you can do to practice your communication skills.

Ask two other health workers or two friends to meet with you. Ask one friend to tell you briefly about something important that has happened in the past week. Listen carefully. Ask the coed friend to listen also. After the first friend finishes, summarize briefly and repeat the information. Ask both friends to correct you if you made mistakes. In this way you will learn how to listen better.

Next you tell one friend about something that you did last week. Ask your friend to summarize what you have said. This way you will learn to speak clearly. Repeat this exercise several times to practice your skills.