Paula B. Poorman, author of Microskills (Allyn & Bacon: S.F., 2003), is the source of the following quotes. I am not going to try to summarize the book, only to emphasize some of the important points she makes. One of those vital messages involves communication.
“Research on interpersonal communication has estimated that at least two-thirds of human communication involves nonverbal interaction…The bulk of their communication with clients was nonverbal. From professional helpers, a great deal of time goes toward conveying that they are listening to and hearing their clients. More than the specific words the professional helper chooses, this basic attending is accomplished through nonverbal responses. …Nonverbal skills require attending and following so closely to what another is saying that you can see at a glance what they are experiencing or even what they may be about to communicate verbally…A discrepancy or inconsistency between someone’s verbal message and facial expression is confusing and will cause the listener to reconsider what message is really being given. Further, when people are confronted with discrepant information between verbal and nonverbal messages, most of us believe the nonverbal message. Think about the last time someone said, ‘I’m not angry!’ with observable venom in her voice or anger on his face. Which message did you believe?” (pp. 27-28).
So, hopefully, you are paying a lot of attention to your client. You are focused on what they are saying. You are there for them. Great! But how do they know that? Yes, they can read your nonverbal messages, and they will! But, you can’t just sit there and nonverbally communicate. You say things. The most important thing you say is not some great words of wisdom. The most important things you say are simply feedback. You let the client know you are listening by feeding back to them what you have heard. This lets them know that you are really paying attention on another level, the verbal level.
What Feedback is Not
“Comments such as ‘You’re sure in a rotten mood’ or ‘You’re an unpleasant person’ are not offering feedback…feedback…must focus on offering specific information about a specific behavior” (p. 52).So, it may feel good to say to a client “You’re a very nice person”, however, that is not feedback. “Comments like ‘I thought you did a good job’ make the recipient feel great but do not include enough specificity to be useful” (P. 52).
The formula for effective feedback is:
“(I) + (observation word) + (specific behavior) + (time frame)”
The formula for effective feedback with statement of impact is:
“(I) + (observation word) + (specific behavior) + (I) + (felt/thought) + (specific feeling or thought) + (time frame for behavior)”
“Thinking of feedback as a type of self-disclosure may help facilitate recognition that some risks are involved in giving feedback” (p. 53).”
“It is rare in any relationship that the listener is more knowledgeable about someone else’s experience than the reporter is about her- or himself. This is true in helping as well. In addition, it is important to offer a client the opportunity to think about what the helper is saying and correct or modify the statements in order to give the most accurate picture of her or his experience. Both of these premises empower clients. Tentative stems include:
“It sounds like you’re feeling…”
“It looks like you’re feeling…”
“So, you’ve been feeling…”
“Did I hear you correctly?”
“I wonder if you’re feeling…” (p. 80).
One of the strengths of Poorman’s book is that she provides the reader with the theoretical foundations for you. In fact, the full title of her book is: “Microskills and Theoretical Foundations for Professional Helpers.” The foundation that I feel is the most basic one comes from Carl Rogers. Although I am not a Rogerian, I believe that all effective therapy is built upon his basic theories. I utilize an eclectic approach where I employ the theories of numerous teachers; however, they are all additions to my basic Rogerian position. So, what is that Rogerian person-centered stance?
“From the person-centered perspective, humans are considered active participants in determining the course of our lives and the development of our personalities and our problems” (p. 141).
We are choice developers for our clients. However, how we approach them makes all the difference. We can help them see choices that are clearly in their best interests, but if we do so in a way that rejects them as a person, they are most likely going to reject anything we attempt. Carl Rogers was a humanist.
“Common to the humanistic perspective, Rogers firmly believed that at the core of each individual was a trustworthy and positive being capable of living an effective and productive life, making constructive changes, and self-understanding” (p. 144).
“…humanistic helpers crate a climate in which people may become aware of, develop, refine, and act on their potential…in humanistic theory, clients are empowered by their relationship with the helper to use their own choices to become more authentically themselves---to more fully realize and act on their natural potential. This process of realizing and acting on one’s potential has been called self-actualization” (p. 142-3).
“The role of the helper according to a person-centered perspective is not anchored in doing, but in being. According to Rogers, the personal characteristics and attitudes that a helper brings to helping relationships facilitate the development of a fully functioning person, rather than the helper’s knowledge of therapeutic techniques” (p. 146).
“…genuineness, unconditional positive regard…and..empathic understanding are the three personal characteristics of the helper that form the central part of any helping relationship according to this approach” (p. 147).
Don’t misunderstand the above. Yes, other theories are important. Yes, you need to develop a wide variety of skills to effectively help others. However, what the emphasis needs to be in on YOU. You have to become that caring person, the humanist, capable as a person to understand suffering---your suffering and the client’s suffering. Then and only then can you truly be person-centered and not distracted by your own personal thoughts, feelings, and behavior.