People often ask me how I balance working as a speech pathologist and a lawyer. Keeping up-to-date with developments in two professions can be a challenge. The history and cultures of each profession differs markedly. But speech pathology and law have one important thing in common. Something that applies to all professionals:
A key aspect of client care is communication. Poor communication can result in complaints and even disputes.
It’s your professional duty to communicate effectively with clients.
Professionals of all stripes must provide clear and timely advice to assist their clients to understand the issues and make informed choices about action to be taken. For many professionals, this basic duty is enshrined in their code of ethics, e.g. Speech Pathology Australia Code of Ethics or rules, e.g. NSW Professional Conduct and Practice Rules 2013.
So how do you do this? A recent article in a legal journal by Clare Chaffey contains some great tips for communicating with clients. Although directed at lawyers, several apply to all professions (and professionals):
1. Plan how you are going to communicate with different clients. Use checklists, props, flow charts to aid communication of complex ideas.
2. Create a safe environment for clients to give honest responses. Spend time with new clients (especially clients who have never been to see a member of your profession before) to explain the process, your services and how you work. Demystify the process and what you do.
3. Encourage questions, making it clear that clients are free to ask you anything – even if it might be embarrassing or difficult for them. There are no “stupid” questions.
4. Use language your client understands. Wherever possible, don’t use jargon. If you must use jargon or a technical term, explain what it means in Plain English.
5. Stop talking and listen to your clients. Ask your client to tell you what it is they understand you can do for them in their own words.
6. Take great care with difficult conversations and advice. It’s human nature to filter or even block out things you don’t want to hear. Use file notes and memos to record important advice and your clients’ understanding of your advice. If necessary, ask your client to sign them. Record the steps you took to ensure your client understood your advice – follow up on written reports and letters to make sure your clients understood them.
7. Communication skills can be learned and improved with training. Good communication skills are worth the investment.
Source: Claire Chaffey. (2014). Lost in Translation. Law Society Journal of New South Wales, December, 30-32.