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Communication skills



Every day of our lives we try to share ideas, feelings, and information with other people. This is what we call communication. It's a part of any relationship between two people. A good relationship can't exist without some sort of sharing of ideas. Talking is the most common way of communicating, but there are many other ways to share information, such as writing, body language, drawing, singing, dancing, and so on. Communication, of course, is not a one-way path. There is a sender of information and a receiver of that information. When the sender communicates clearly and appropriately and the receiver hears and understands, ideas are shared. That is when communication really happens. The basic philosophy of the Peace Corps is to help people help themselves. Is it possible to work effectively with people without really communicating with them? In fact, many of the techniques you will use in your work as Volunteers in the field are essentially methods of communication. Your skills in this area will be essential to your effectiveness and success with the communities you find yourself working in.

The action of sending a message, whether oral, written or otherwise, does not automatically result in communication. There are many common breakdowns in our daily communication efforts that cause misunderstanding, confusion, and sometimes problems in our personal and professional relationships. Coupled now with the language and cultural differences that you will encounter in the communities where you work, the communication skills you possess will be continually challenged.

Let's look at some examples of common difficulties with communication that you may encounter in your field work as a Peace Corps Volunteer:

• Your message may be received but not understood. (It may be in the wrong language or too technical. You may be speaking too fast or mumbling or not connecting with your audience.)

• Your message may reach only a portion of the audience. (There may be different learning styles and/or differing needs of the illiterate vs. literate audience.)

• Your audience may receive the message but misinterpret it. (If they don't see the guinea worm cyclops in the water, it must be safe to drink.)

• The message may be received and understood, but it may conflict with traditional attitudes and beliefs. (Villagers may believe that guinea worm comes from evil spirits to punish a family, or they may prefer the taste of water from a traditional source.)

• The message is received and understood, but the people are unable to act upon it because of poverty or inaccessibility factors. (It may be impossible to install pump or dig for well, or the nearest potable water source is inaccessible.)

• The message is received and understood, but behavior change is temporary because of disappointing results. (It takes a full year to realize the benefits of guinea worm prevention efforts. There are no immediately recognizable results that would encourage behavior change.)

Now let's take a look at some points to remember that will help you in your field efforts:

• Define clearly (for yourself) what message you are trying to relay before presenting to an audience. Think ahead. Be prepared. If possible, test your materials first. (Even with just one or two people you can get some valuable feedback on important details.)

• Keep your message simple, practical, brief, and relevant.

• Use appropriate language. If you do not speak the language of the village, use a translator, preferably someone you know and have worked with so that you are assured of accurate translation. Speak in simple terms. Do not use technical language. Find the appropriate words to replace the technical terminology. Speak slowly and loud enough for everyone to hear.

• Unless you know for sure, do not assume that your audience is literate. Use oral or visual or active methods of communicating. That way, no one is left out or intimidated by your presentation.

• Repetition is very important. Repeat or let someone else repeat the main points of the presentation. Summarize at regular intervals so that the group stays with you and understands the primary message. If possible, arrange subsequent visits to repeat and reinforce those main points.

Three skills needed to promote good communication are:

Speaking Clearly

Listening and Paying Attention

Discussing and Clarifying