Effective and respectful communication in forced displacement

Effective and respectful communication is central to all refugee1 work. UNHCR and partner staff and refugees regularly communicate with each other in formal and informal daily encounters, interviews, participatory assessments, and other interactions. These interactions, even though they may focus on a specific issue or a personal case, are of critical importance to an understanding of the broader protection environment and refugees’ needs and capacities. However, when both refugees and staff are under pressure, it is not always easy to remain friendly, patient and attentive. Communication may be negatively affected by various factors: emotions such as anger, insecurity or fatigue can impede refugees’ ability to express themselves. Under such circumstances, distressed people frequently have difficulties in recounting their experiences. Similarly, stress and high pressure may decrease staff members’ ability to listen actively and act respectfully. That ability may also be hampered by pre-existing prejudices. These conditions may interfere with our work to ensure protection of persons of concern, if not handled appropriately. Furthermore, the power imbalance between refugees and staff can limit the openness of communication, create unrealistic expectations, and heighten tensions.
This note provides guidance on dealing with and managing stress and emotions, enabling staff to treat persons of concern with dignity and empathy, and to further facilitate and strengthen effective communication.

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