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C.2 Communication Skills

Communication skills are essential to hygiene promotion (HP) to build trust with the communities, enable their participation and promote behaviour change. 

The following communication skills are important for HP:

Active listening: communication is not only about delivering information. It is also about listening carefully to what is being said.

Empathy: empathy is an important quality for understanding and sharing the emotions of another person; it informs the selection of an appropriate response.

Respect: respectful communication includes behaviours such as avoiding interruptions, knowing when to initiate communications, when to respond and when to stop talking. 

Friendliness: friendly traits such as honesty and kindness can foster trust and understanding. It is important to maintain a positive attitude, keep an open mind and ask questions to help you understand the audience. 

Being open to feedback: strong communicators accept critical feedback and give constructive input to others.

Specific language skills and working through interpreters: fluency in the languages of the affected population is important, or being able to work effectively with an interpreter.

Verbal communication: oral and written communications should be tailored to the audience and precise (e.g. identify a specific action that can be taken).

Non-verbal communication: this includes non-verbal signals, gestures, facial expressions, body language, tone of voice and even appearance. It is important to understand and respect the cultural sensitivities, gestures and dress code of communities with whom you are interacting. 

Volume and clarity: being clear and audible is important when communicating. A valuable skill for effective communication is to adjust the voice in order to be heard in a variety of settings. Speaking too loudly may be disrespectful or awkward in certain communities.

Communication plans: communication specialists should be able to collect, analyse and record information about community needs and then design, execute and evaluate the intervention. Campaigns and media communications plans must be integrated with the overall emergency response. 

Negotiation and conflict resolution: strong communicators have the skills to facilitate dialogue between different actors and to negotiate and resolve conflict if necessary.

Technical skills: it is important to be able to use the equipment identified in the media communication plan (e.g. phone lines, telephone banks, computers, walkie-talkies, personal digital assistants, cameras, copiers and radios)

Process & Good Practice

  • Ensure that communication is two-way C.4 and that community input and feedback is encouraged C.6.

  • Ask questions (chapter  A ). The initial communication role of the hygiene promoter is to try to understand the situation rather than to ‘tell people what to do’. 

  • Listen carefully to what people say and try to reflect what you hear back to them, or summarise the main points that you have understood (Motivational Interviewing, T.27).

  • Recognise that people may have experienced significant and traumatic events and be grieving for loved ones. Validate their experiences by allowing them to talk freely.

  • Foster productive relationships with communities. Small gestures, such as asking someone how they are doing, nodding and smiling or offering praise can help build trust and relationships.

  • Encourage the affected community to ask questions to clarify issues or learn about the WASH programme. 

  • Be as honest as possible with people; be prepared to admit that you do not know something and then return to them with an answer (if there is one). 

  • Share information as freely as possible in order to develop trust and open communication. 

  • Use the most appropriate methods and channels of communication for different target audiences (C.4 and C.5) selecting those that best fit a target audience’s capacity to access and understand such information.

  • Use pictures where possible and appropriate to clarify information and make communication more interesting.

  • Use existing community networks (e.g. women’s groups or community health networks) to support communication wherever available.

  • Work with groups and use ‘multi-way communication’ to discuss an issue. This can yield benefits as a result of peer pressure and the influence of other community members.

  • Ensure that information is accessible to audiences in diverse situations (including people living in remote and hard-to-reach areas C.8, the socially and economically vulnerable and people displaced by the disaster). Avoid technical jargon and create messages (where used) which are simple and relevant.

  • Provide information that helps individuals and communities make decisions about their future, supporting their self-recovery and behaviours.

  • Avoid negative messages - they are not as effective as positive messages. For example, instead of ‘diarrhoea can kill you’ say ‘wash your hands to protect your children from diarrhoea’. 

  • Reiterate key information and messages regularly as people may not have heard or understood them the first time. They may also need time to process new information and ask questions about it.

  • Update information regularly in response to new knowledge and understanding: out-dated information can cause confusion and mistrust. Ensure that HP teams regularly share the information. 

  • Manage rumours and false information that may cause harm to the community C.6.

  • Take account of changing communication needs in different phases of emergency and be prepared to adapt materials and strategies in response.



To listen and communicate effectively with individuals, groups and communities to develop mutual understanding and trust between different WASH stakeholders. 


  • Active listening is at the heart of effective communication.

  • Diverse communication skills are needed for different forms of communication. Advocacy communication P.10 and professional communication (such as for coordination) P.9 differs from communications with communities.

  • Fluency in the language of the target audience is an important skill for communicators. Sometimes fluency in multiple languages is required (e.g. the host and displaced communities may speak different languages).

  • The use of culturally appropriate body language, attire and non-verbal communication is very important. 

  • Public information is not always trusted by the communities. Community Engagement (chapter  E ) is fundamental to gaining trust.

  • Communication networks often become disrupted during emergencies. Alternatives will often be needed - flexibility and adaptability are required.


Communication skills for emergencies

World Bank (2020):  Communication during Disaster Recovery. Disaster Recovery Guidance Series

Information on motivational interviewing theory and practice

Fuller, C., Taylor, P (2008): A Toolkit of Motivational Skills. Encouraging and Supporting Change in Individuals, John Wiley and Sons. ISBN 978-0-470-51658-4

Short films on active listening and the community dialogue approach

Spunout (2015): Six Tips for Active Listening

Malaria Consortium (2019): The Community Dialogue Approach. Social and Behaviour Change for Promoting Healthy Communities