The Role of Communication in Supervision
In the healthcare sphere, clinical supervision plays a pivotal role in fostering the growth, development, and working conditions of professionals. At the forefront of effective clinical supervision is tailored communication, which is essential for building strong supervisory relationships, facilitating learning, and ensuring the well-being of both the supervisor and the supervisee.
The Australian Clinical Supervision Association understands the importance of communication and aims to support supervisors in implementing effective techniques across various communication types for impactful supervision.
Verbal communication forms the foundation of clinical supervision and allows for the exchange of ideas, feedback, and information related to clinical practice. It encompasses both spoken and written interactions between the supervisor and the supervisee.
In sessions, utilise constant two-way communication instead of a ‘lecturing’ style for relationship-building, trust, psychological safety, and positive experiences.
Through active listening, the supervisor can provide guidance, share insights, and address any concerns the supervisee may have. Communicating clearly and concisely is crucial to ensuring mutual understanding and effective collaboration. To provide valuable, respectful, and constructive supervision, employ empathy in verbal communication by acknowledging perspectives.
An important aspect of verbal communication in supervision is asking questions. Questions should be relevant, constructive, and balanced, allowing supervisees to clarify their concerns and know that you are listening. Implement closed and open questions appropriately for proper communication.
Digital verbal communication forms – such as email – may be the preferred mode for some supervisees. If you provide this service option, check emails regularly and reply with clarity, conciseness, and professionalism.
While verbal communication is essential, non-verbal cues also play a significant role in clinical supervision, with studies indicating that up to 75% of communication is non-verbal. Non-verbal communication includes facial expressions, tone of voice, body language, and gestures. These cues can convey emotions, interest, and attentiveness.
A supervisor who displays positive non-verbal communication signals – such as maintaining eye contact, nodding, having regular lip movement, and using appropriate facial expressions – creates a safe and supportive environment for the supervisee. Conversely, negative non-verbal cues can hinder effective communication and impede the supervisee's ability to share openly.
When practising supervision, keep your hands away from your mouth, face your supervisees, employ a warm, clear, and formal tone of voice, and use open body language for effective nonverbal communication that makes supervisees feel safe and able to ask questions. Make sure there isn’t a physical barrier – such as a desk – between yourself and your supervisee(s), and ensure your eyes are on the same level to reduce nonverbal barriers. Welcome silence to allow supervisees to gather thoughts and think through concerns.
A more specific form of communication involved in supervision is reflective communication. Reflective communication involves encouraging the supervisee to reflect on their own practice, experiences, and emotions. Through thoughtful questioning and active listening, the supervisor helps the supervisee gain insight into their strengths, areas for improvement, and the impact of their actions on patient care. By promoting self-reflection, the supervisor fosters critical thinking skills and enhances the supervisee's ability to make informed decisions in challenging clinical situations.
Supervisors can enhance reflective communication by encouraging written techniques, such as keeping a workplace diary or summarising events and procedures. Debriefing structures, self-appraisal forms, and targeted questioning may also be utilised to initiate reflective communication. Supervisors may also paraphrase a supervisee’s words to further clarity, understanding, and discussion. Ultimately, reflective communication allows supervisees to actively engage in their own professional development.
Feedback is another essential component of communication in clinical supervision and is a powerful tool for professional growth. Effective feedback should be constructive, specific, and timely. It allows the supervisee to gain awareness of their strengths and weaknesses, helping them improve their clinical skills and performance.
Ensure feedback is balanced by providing both constructive and affirming comments. You may request that your supervisee provides recordings of their clinical practice for relevant feedback and review. It is also beneficial to request feedback on your supervision services to refine and modify your practice.
Supervisors can guide and empower supervisees to become competent and well-rounded healthcare practitioners through effective verbal, non-verbal, reflective, and feedback-related communication. By understanding the importance of different types of communication in clinical supervision, supervisors can create an environment conducive to learning, development, and trust. Further advice and support for supervisors can be found on our blog. Contact the Australian Clinical Supervision Association today for more information about clinical supervision!