Do you sometimes wonder how to most effectively engage in a difficult conversation? Some people may say that good conversations are a matter of common sense… they may be; but they are not always common practice. Perhaps a client is regularly late for their appointment, or maybe you have a colleague who doesn’t communicate enough. Imagine perhaps that a client is voicing their concern in a less than positive or tactful manner, “this is rubbish, it doesn’t work, you aren’t any good…”.
What stops you communicating with them about it? What could go wrong? It can be good to be alert to any limiting beliefs that you might have (e.g. “They won’t like me anymore”) and strengthen your positive self-beliefs. Be aware that you are in charge of your own destiny, no-one else.
The start of effective communication begins with listening…
Do you hear yourself interrupting? Particularly with “yes, but…”? Are you diagnosing before you have heard the full story? Do you find yourself giving or dictating solutions? Do you turn it back around to yourself, with “Oh, me too…” or are you constantly writing everything down, thus avoiding eye contact and distancing yourself.
Effective active listening skills includes reflecting back, summarising and clarifying their views (“So what you are saying is that it sounds like you…”), appropriate eye contact and asking non-leading questions.
How do you deal with difficult conversations?
Take a moment to honestly think about how you would deal with the following situations:
- Someone is complaining about a person you like very much
- A client asks your opinion and then says “yes, but” to your suggestions
- A colleague takes credit for your work / ideas
- You are critiqued unjustly
How would you usually deal with difficult conversations such as these? Are you an ‘Avoider’, a ‘Full Attacker’ or a ‘Mediator’?
An ‘Avoider’ avoids getting to the point, floats and drifts around it
A ‘Full Attacker’ attacks the issue like a sledgehammer
A ‘Mediator’ communicates with respect, and is focused on a defined outcome
Where a conversation starts in conflict, or develops into conflict, asking questions slows down conflict, whereas defensiveness speeds it up. However, be aware of how those questions can trigger unwanted responses…
“Don’t you think” = I think
“Did you”…”Have you” = You should have
What are you working with?
With difficult conversations, and particularly when giving feedback, you are not working with their personality or their attitude, you are working with their behaviour.
Describe their behaviour in a neutral state; “What you did/said was X….”
Explain how you felt; “I felt X…”
Indicate understanding; “I understand X…”
Inform; “In future X…”
Remember to include open questions (what, how, when, where, who), avoiding why (analytical, potential for judgement or blame) and avoid closed (yes / no) questions.
Effective feedback to and from clients is a vital part of therapeutic communication. Alongside active listening and rapport building, feedback management, both the giving and receiving of feedback, has many benefits, not least enhancing working relationships and our overall effectiveness as therapists. We communicate feedback all the time; how we speak, listen, our tone of voice, our words, even the silences between the words. Whether we acknowledge it or not, we are giving feedback all the time. Feedback not only conveys information from one person to another about behaviour or actions that have occurred or may occur, but also influences the nature, and likelihood of its occurrence or recurrence. It can be conscious (deliberate, verbal) or unconscious (non-verbal, body language)…
It is better when our feedback is precise and helpful, and phrased to refer, without interpretation or judgement, to specific observed and perceived ways of behaviour, not the person (or personality) themselves. In addition, it is better when given at the right moment and presented in a way that the recipient can use and respond to.
Feedback enables the client to explore their strengths and areas for growth in an engaged manner, taking ownership in the process. Where feedback is balanced, accurate, well-timed, clear, specific, it can help the client perform more effectively (e.g. presentation strategies), inform the client about effects of certain behaviours (e.g. healthy eating), correct misinformation (e.g. about myths) and check for understanding (e.g. “…you are saying you are coming for hypnotherapy primarily to reduce stress”), whilst avoiding the provision of opinions e.g. “You really ought to attend therapy more regularly”
In effective feedback, there needs to be value and understanding. Both parties need to feel that they have been understood, and that what has been communicated has some value e.g. “This is important because…” “That is interesting because….”
Providing positive feedback is an opportunity to motivate and give praise, hopefully inspiring the person to do more of what will get them more praise, building on positive feelings and commitment. Giving effective feedback and receiving feedback well, are skills that can be developed with practice.
How to give feedback
There are a range of feedback types, with descriptive approaches being the most commonly applied:
Describing the behaviour or action
Evaluating the behaviour action introduces an element of critique
Emotional feedback can be less helpful from a therapist, as it communicates from a feelings perspective, yet can offer insight when provided by the client
Interpretative feedback develops insight and awareness by showing a ‘different perspective’.
Self feedback is where the therapist wishes to help the client develop their own self-reflection skills. They can ask the client to reflect and consider what feedback they would give themselves.
When considering how you give feedback, also consider the influence of cultural diversity. How we communicate may generally (though unintentionally) be confusing or even potentially impolite, for our clients. Being culturally aware is useful, and checking with clients can get some helpful feedback too.
Before giving feedback, it is useful to first consider why you are planning to give feedback. Consider whether it is necessary, why you are giving it, will it be helpful? Can you be honest? Are you able to speak with respect? Can you be compassionate? The key purpose of giving genuine and authentic feedback is to raise the client’s awareness of what they are doing. It may be that you are working with a client’s denial of their self-destructive habits. It is a skill to be able to tolerate uncomfortable situations as a therapist, staying connected to and present with the client in that moment of the therapeutic process. Sometimes, it is those difficult moments, particularly where a client faces up to their own accountability, that offer the most growth and development.
A genuine intention to help or provide information will come across to the client in how feedback is received and is more likely to generate a positive response. Do remember, also, that feedback is ‘offered’, the client always has a choice whether they will accept it or not.
The feedback process
Communicate your feedback effectively
When giving feedback using the right language is important, and as hypnotherapists and hypnotists we (hopefully) understand how to phrase and frame our comments positively, avoiding any perception of judgement, criticism or attack (as such an approach is unlikely to enhance the situation). Thus, avoiding communications such as “You didn’t do xyz…” and instead using “If you had xyz, it would have…” or replacing “You didn’t handle that very well” with “How could you have handled that situation differently?” will generally be a more effective choice when giving feedback.
A feedback model for communicating changes to behaviour is ‘D.E.R.I.S.T’:
Here are 9 more useful tips on how to enhance your feedback communication:
1 – Take time to consider what you want to say.
2 – Offer rather than push your information and suggestions. Instead of giving advice / opinions, present ideas and reflections.
3 – Be factual, speaking from your own perspective, offering observations of what you have seen or heard, rather than giving assumptions or interpretations, which can be misguidedly built from incomplete information.
4 – Be specific, such as “When you laughed I felt upset because I wanted to be taken seriously”, as opposed to generalisations, such as “You never take me seriously”.
5 – Be selective and avoid giving someone too much to do at once.
6 – Be supportive, rather than critical. Work from a position of ‘unconditional positive regard’.
7 – Make it personal, by using “I” in your feedback, such as “I felt disappointed when you didn’t attend your appointment”, rather than “You have failed yourself by not coming to the session”.
8 – Listen, be honest, respect boundaries.
9 – During feedback, having a congruent tone of voice enhances the impact of the feedback.
We hope this blog has been helpful, but if you have any more questions on how to give effective feedback to your clients (or anything else for that matter) do please get in touch, because we’re always happy to help!
– written by Dr Kate Beaven-Marks