Communication skills made easy with fun exercises

Draw a coloring book figure; bounce a beach ball

Coloring books and beach balls may seem like odd tools for teaching communication skills, but they might succeed where words fail in illustrating common communication problems.

With this in mind, Woodland Community Hospital Home Health Services in Cullman, AL, taught an inservice on communication to aides using an exercise that involved having aides draw a simple picture based on a description of a coloring book figure.

The goal was to show them how difficult it can be to say what one really means, says Nora Serian, RN, Woodland home health aide supervisor.

The instructors cut out pictures from a children’s coloring book of an ice cream cone, scissors, a flower, a pretzel, a fish, and other items. Then aides were paired and placed back to back. One person was given the picture, and the partner was given a blank sheet of paper and a pen.

"They had to describe the picture to someone without describing the item," Serian explains. "Say it was an ice cream cone; they had to say it was an inverted triangle with a circle on top, and their partner had to draw what was described to them."

Nothing but circles and triangles

Each partner was given three minutes to describe and draw an item, and they switched roles. The aides found this was more difficult than they had imagined, Serian says.

"They wanted to say it was a food or snack that you eat, but they couldn’t and had to describe it in terms of circles and triangles," Serian adds.

Another good exercise is to place eight to 12 people in a circle with five beach balls, says Lynne Graham, LBSW, Woodland social worker.

This exercise will show how difficult it is for patients to juggle communications with all of the different health care professionals who are coming into their homes.

"You talk about different conflicts going on with patients and start with one ball and kick it across the circle," Graham says.

Then the facilitator kicks another ball into the circle, and the participants are supposed to keep the two balls in motion. Next, add a third, then a fourth, and a fifth ball to the circle. Pretty soon the participants are overwhelmed and cannot keep the balls in motion.

The idea is that the people in the circle are like patients, and the balls represent the home care professionals entering the patients’ lives at a confusing pace.

"You’ve got an aide, nurse, physical therapist, nutritionist, and social worker coming into the home," Graham says. "Everybody is having something to say about your care, and it’s very hard to maintain all that."