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Trauma Informed Communication Series #4: The Power of Choice

We’re halfway through our series on trauma-informed communication. So far, we’ve talked about shifting power dynamics, prioritizing safety, and building trust and transparency. 


This month we’re thinking about empowerment and choice. If we offer a service people rely on, we have power, and they may feel anxious or uncomfortable asking for something they need. Additionally, people often don’t know what options are available until we lay them out explicitly. Incorporating choices in your work can help make communicating with your audience less stressful and more positive. 





Strategies for Offering Choices

There are a lot of ways we can incorporate choices into our work. Here are just a few ideas to get you started.


Time & Location

It might seem simple, but allowing folks to choose where and when they do things can help foster a sense of control. Only offer what fits within your availability and consider things like:

  • Can you offer virtual or in-person options?

  • For in person options, are there community spaces, like a library or coffee shop, that could work? 

  • Can you offer meeting options at various times of day? 


Communication

One of the great things about living in 2024 is that we have so many communication tools. We can make it easy for people to communicate with us the way they are most comfortable by sharing options explicitly. 


For example, we use a Google form for our post-training survey. We know not everyone likes or can easily use Google forms. In the instructions, we include an email address and phone number. We tell people they can call to answer the questions verbally or email us their thoughts. 





Talking about Difficult Topics

One of the most important aspects of trauma-informed communication is thinking about how we talk to people about challenging ideas. Depending on your work, you may be asking people to share sensitive information or explore emotional topics. 

In these situations, there are a few really important ways we can offer choices.


  1. Tell people what you’re going to talk about before you start. When possible, let people know they don’t have to answer every question. Be mindful of the information you require and be clear up front, so people can choose if they even want to engage. 

  2. Right from the beginning, explicitly tell people they can take a break at any time. If you notice someone seems overwhelmed or upset, offer to pause and continue later when they’re ready. 

  3. Provide ways for people to get support. If you’re not a trained mental health professional, acknowledge what people share and offer to connect them with a professional who can help. 


Meeting People Where They’re At

The goal is to help the folks we’re working with feel a sense of control over their experience. 

If it feels like offering choices overcomplicates your work, look for opportunities to systematize your options. For example, using an appointment scheduler like Calendly or Google Calendar Appointments makes it really easy for people to schedule time with you. You can regularly share that link as an option, and they can choose the time that works best for them. 


It might take a few tries and some creativity to find sustainable processes that work for you. At the end of the day, it’s worth the effort if the folks you serve have a more positive experience, because you’re both more likely to get what you need from your relationship.



In the next part of our trauma-informed communication series, we’ll hear from our colleagues Keighty and Bria on how the practice of peer support guides their work at Community Literacy.

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