Communication Skills training for Volunteers

Please read the training material below and then go back to the previous page.

Session Overview

This session covers what good communication is and examines some of the common communication errors that may arise during a volunteer’s interactions with others.

The main aim of communication is to share information or ideas using the three types of communication explained in this session. There is a lot to consider when you are communicating during your volunteering activities. Poor communication can lead to conflict, complaints, confusion, mistakes and unsafe situations.

Developing these skills will enable you to communicate with everyone, including your volunteer coordinator, the public, service users, managers and other volunteers.

Good communication is important to every organisation.

Types of Communication

Communication cab be grouped into three different types that complement each other and improve overall communication.

  1. Verbal – Discussions, Group discussions and Telephone conversations.
  2. Non-verbal – Body Language, Eye contact, Active listening and Appearance.
  3. Written – Note-keeping, Letters, Emails and Social media/Marketing

Verbal Communication

Speaking clearly, with the intent to pass on the intended message, is a vital requirement for effective communication with others.

Trust and Building Relationships

How can you build trust and good relationships with others?

Using clear introductions, showing empathy and understanding, being honest and open and actively listening and showing interest.

Communication Difficulties

Recognising potential communication difficulties and accessing the appropriate support is vital. This can include the involvement of interpreters and specialised language support.

What are some of the verbal communication difficulties that you may face as a volunteer?

Some of the verbal communication difficulties that you may face as a volunteer can include people with:

Hearing loss, Loss of sight, Language barriers, Speech defects or Learning disabilities

You will need to think about what you and the person you are communicating with might need to improve communication. This could include:

Hearing aids, Symbol/picture cards, Signs, Translators, Writing boards or Other technical equipment

As a volunteer, if you are unsure about a person’s communication needs, it is important you ask your Manager for assistance.

Common Errors

Some of the common verbal communication errors include:

  • Interrupting
  • Insensitivity with regard to religion or culture
  • Failing to pass on concerns or fears
  • Asking pressing questions
  • Use of jargon without explanation
  • Sharing confidential information

Non-Verbal Communication

Non- Verbal communication includes body language, such as gestures, facial expressions, eye-contact and posture.

Communication is:

55% from non-verbal/body language, 38% from the tone of voice and 7% from the spoken word

In other words:

  • What you say is less important than how you say it
  • People can be persuaded by attitude and appearance

Non-verbal communication is particularly important when dealing with emotional issues.

Non-verbal communication can be used to support, clarify or in some instances replace verbal communication. However, be aware, in some situations non-verbal communications can contradict verbal messages leading to confusion. It is easy to take non-verbal communication for granted as it takes many forms.

Active Listening

Active listening is a structured way of listening and responding as it focuses on the person you are talking to. It requires you to suspend your own judgements. All volunteers should actively listen and respect other people’s views and sensitivities. Flexibility, empathy and a sensitive appreciation of other peoples’ points of view, facilitates good team working.

How can you show you are actively listening to someone?

Here are some suggestions:

  • Give the person your full attention
  • Avoid distractions
  • Observe the person’s body language, whilst being aware of your own
  • Nod, smile and use other facial expressions
  • Encourage the person to continue, using ‘yes’, ‘uh huh’
  • Paraphrase, ask questions and summarise
  • Do not interrupt
  • Check the person understands what you are saying by asking questions

Written Communication and Teamwork

As part of your volunteer role, you may be required to take notes, send e-mails, write letters, etc. Important points to consider when writing include:

  • Be as clear as possible
  • Address the person you are communicating with
  • Sign off with your name
  • Be polite
  • Get the message across
  • Use short sentences
  • Write in the order you wish them to read
  • Re-read and check before sending
  • Where possible, ask someone to check the writing before sending


Good team working involves:

  • Having clear objectives that are understood by all team members
  • Effective communication
  • Mutual trust and support
  • Sort out conflicts as early as possible
  • Effective team leadership

Working with others involves:

  • Taking responsibility for your own actions
  • Communicating well
  • Listening actively to the team leader and other team members
  • Being honest, reliable, supportive and helpful
  • Acting in a professional manner – you are an ambassador for your organisation
  • Treating others with respect


Everything we do for the people we support, whether it is supporting the person to make choices, helping them up out of a chair or taking an arm when crossing the road, requires their consent.

So how does a person give consent? The first step is to ask the question, such as:

Mr Brown, is it OK if I take your arm whilst walking to stop you from falling?

The following responses from Mr Brown could be considered as offering ‘consent’:

  • Saying ‘yes’ or something similar (‘Alright’, ‘OK’, etc.)
  • Nodding their head

If you don’t receive any of these, you don’t have Mr Brown’s consent.

Know Your Boundaries

Knowing when to call for help is a key skill.

As a volunteer, people may share concerns, complaints or queries with you. However, is it not your responsibility to deal with issues shared with you. It is your responsibility to ensure that issues and related information is passed on to your volunteer coordinator or another relevant staff member. It is important you communicate this information in a clear and factual manner. This may require written notes and verbal communication. Apart from communicating this information with your volunteer coordinator or appropriate team member; this information should be kept confidential.

Session Summary

Key Points

  • Communication is a vital skill
  • Communication is central to improving relationships with others
  • Good communication is an essential part of effective team working
  • Communication needs to consider the communication preferences of the person/s
  • Communication includes verbal and non-verbal aspects
  • Good telephone manners complement good communication skills, particularly in non-face-to-face contact
  • The development of good communication skills is a lifelong process, with no definite endpoint
  • As an ambassador for your organisation you should be polite, considerate and professional



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