At CEH, we’ve helped lots of workers effectively check what their clients understand from their conversations. When we started this work we would call this ‘checking for understanding’. As we’ve dug deeper into the health literacy research and helped more organisations improve clinician/ client understanding, we’ve had to change how we think about this.
We’ve moved from saying ‘checking for understanding’ to saying ‘creating shared understanding’.
But what’s the difference and why should you care?
Checking for understanding isn’t a good way to phrase this process because:
- It can sound like you’re testing your client
- It can create the assumption that workers are the source of knowledge and clients are passive receivers of that knowledge
- It can make it sound like the responsibility to understand lies with the client, but actually it’s the workers job to understand the client [SG1].
We like creating shared understanding much better.
Creating shared understanding does a few things for us:
- It takes the responsibility to understand from the client and puts it on the worker to create a situation where understanding is reached
- It more accurately describes what needs to happen for effective communication- the worker needs to actively set out to create shared understanding by finding out how the client understands the situation or condition, encouraging questions and regularly checking what the client has understood from the conversation
- It sounds collaborative – effective communication is very often collaborative