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close this bookAnimation Skills (Peace Corps)
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View the documentCommunication skills
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View the documentIn the neighborhood....

Communication skills

"A good head and good heart are always a formidable combination. "

Nelson Mandela

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. A 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 your self 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:

"The moment you have protected an individual, you have protected society"

Kenneth Kaunda
(First President of Zambia)

Communication skills

· Your message may be received but not understood. (It may be in the wrong language, 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. (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. (The belief that guinea worm comes from evil spirits to punish a family. Or a preference for 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. (Geographically impossible to install pump or dig for well. 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:

"Spoken words are living things-like cocoa beans packed with life.... They will enter some insides, remain there and grow like the corn blooming on the alluvial soil at the river side. "

Gabriel Okara

· 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.

Speak slowly and loud enough for everyone to hear.

"Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has. "

Margaret Mead

Three skills needed to promote good communication are:

Speaking Clearly

Listening and Paying Attention

Discussing and Clarifying


· To provide Trainees an opportunity for structured observation of various communication skills.

· To provide Trainees with accurate information about the life cycle of the guinea worm.


· Trainees will have learned how to conduct and participate in a fishbowl as animation technique.

· Trainees will have identified at least five practices that contribute to poor communication and five that promote effective communication.

· Trainees will be able to accurately recite the transmission cycle of guinea worm disease.


1. Begin by reviewing basic knowledge concerning guinea worm disease. (Trainees should have read the guinea worm fact sheet by now.)


Ask for a volunteer to describe the life cycle of guinea worm. Be sure these main points are covered:

· Water containing guinea worm infected cyclops.. is swallowed by human being.

· Guinea worm develops inside body for about one year before emerging from human host.

· Guinea worm takes several weeks to totally emerge and exit the human body. During the process, the worm emits larvae.

· When guinea worm larvae come in contact with drinking water source, the water is recontaminated.

· Anyone drinking recontaminated water is at risk for guinea worm disease. The cycle begins again.


2. Review the importance of good communication skills. Ask Trainees to cite some common breakdowns in communication that they have experienced and some points that are essential to good communication. Write key words from their responses on flip chart paper. You may complete their list with points found on the Communication Skills handout.


3. Divide Trainees two or three groups to quickly come up with a definition of good communication.

Ask each of the small groups to present their definition. Take a few minutes to discuss and come to consensus on just one working definition of effective communication.

Ask Trainees to imagine how simple facts about the life cycle of guinea worm could be easily misunderstood with poor communication.

Choose one or two examples of communication breakdowns from the flip chart list to illustrate problems in communicating information correctly. Have Trainees give concrete examples of possible confusing or incorrect messages about guinea worm life cycle.


4. Explain the purpose of a fishbowl to Trainees. It is a technique for structured observation of a group process. ( In our case, it is observation of communication skills and the transfer of information about guinea worm.) An inner circle of participants is given a specific topic to communicate about while an outer circle of participants observes and gives feedback on the inner circle activity.

For this particular fishbowl exercise, we will use a role play as our activity. There are many other possibilities such as one-on-one or group discussion, a song, a dance, a game, etc.

Explain to participants that this role play deals with the life cycle of guinea worm but can easily be changed to other topics of interest.



5. Determine how to divide the large group: according to number of participants, by sex if appropriate, by other natural groupings according to your specific circumstances.

Present the prepared role play to the inside fishbowl participants and give them a few minutes to review their roles together before you begin the exercise.


6. Arrange a circle of chairs for the participants inside the fishbowl with a circle of chairs outside for observers. The outside circle should be close enough to the inside circle for participants to hear and observe without problem.

7. With the selected inner circle participants in place, instruct the outside circle participants to observe closely and take notes on what they hear and see. They especially should keep in mind the previous discussion about effective communication.


8. Allow the role play to last for a few minutes or until the main points have been covered.

9. When the time is up, you have a few options:


a.) Ask for random feedback from the outside circle on what they observed. You want observations only-no critique at this time.

b.) Ask the outside group to identify what they saw, what they heard, and what they felt during the role play. Take comments about each aspect separately.

c.) Ask inside circle to comment on what happened and how they felt.

Relate participant comments back to the list of breakdowns and points of effective communication that were made earlier.

Ask the observers what messages they received about guinea worm in the role play. Were the messages-clear? How might they be misinterpreted by the poor communication skills used?


10. Now ask the participants of the inner circle to do the role play again using the proper communication skills cited on the flip chart. Ask for general approval from the outside circle on the communication skills used and take this opportunity to repeat the main messages about the life cycle of guinea worm.


11. A second round of the fishbowl could be practiced switching members of the outside and inside circles. You could have a second role play prepared or you could ask the participants to spontaneously act out a scenario of good communication.

12. After the entire exercise is over, lead the group in processing the experience. Take this opportunity to relate the exercise and skills learned to other sector-specific considerations.