Imagine you have an issue and you decide to share your problem with a friend. How would you feel if the friend responded with any of comments below?
- “Let me tell you exactly what you need to do.”
- “That has happened to me and I did ________ to solve the problem.”
- “Tomorrow will be a better day.”
- “Everything happens for a reason.”
- “You are not given more than you can handle.”
- “Think of this as a learning opportunity.”
- “Have you considered doing _______”
- “There must be a lesson here for you.”
The list above includes a few examples of common mistakes that people in the helping profession use. At first glance, these responses appear to be helpful and are used when there is a problem to be solved. However, these comments don’t invite further conversation but rather discourage communication. The best approach is a collaborative one: helping the client define their problems and goals and assisting them in finding ways to solve problems and achieve goals.
According to Chang, Scott & Decker (2013), here are the 6 common mistakes professionals make when developing working relationships with clients.
Offering advice is only appropriate once you fully understand the client, situation, and the challenges faced by the client. You should know the individual’s short- and long-term goals. Otherwise, offering advice prematurely “reinforces the practitioner as the authority and expert instead of demonstrating the belief that the client is able to solve problems and is the expert on his/her situation” (Chang, et.al. pp. 99).
Being Too Reassuring
Reassurance is not an appropriate response to someone’s concern. Saying “it will be OK” is not based in reality – unless you know for certain that it will be OK. Reassurance is offered to reduce someone’s pain. But the pain a client feels can also motivate them to solve the problem. Downplaying someone’s pain can make them feel misunderstood or disrespected. Comments such as, “Don’t worry!” are also ineffective as they minimize an individual’s concerns.
Offering excuses for a client’s situation may indicate understanding, but it doesn’t motivate a client to look for ways to solve the problem. It’s more productive to help the client set goals and find ways to achieve those goals.
Asking Leading Questions
Unless the client and helping professional have established clear goals, asking leading questions is like offering advice. The advice is embedded in the question, “Have you considered speaking in a calm voice to your child?” Leading questions do not lead to the client feeling a sense of empowerment (aka the Eureka effect), which should be one of the principal goals.
Dominating through Teaching
Communicating in a dominating way can create numerous detrimental reactions from the client. The client may feel ashamed, rebellious, defensive or argumentative. Teaching in a dominating or pushy way can appear as though there is only one correct solution. It does not stimulate the client to think for themselves and to search for their own solutions (Chang, et. al. pp.100).
Asking a client one question after another makes clients feel as though they are being interrogated. Helping professionals just starting in their careers tend to ask too many questions rather than listening and expressing empathy. “Why” questions can be problematic as they can be viewed as judgmental.
I found this information valuable, not only for professionals but for lay people as well. Regardless of who you are or what field you’re in, I believe these concepts can be applied to any and all relationships whether they are friends, family, colleagues, customers or clients. Next time you’re meeting with someone, try out some of these ideas and observe how it changes the conversation!
Chang, Scott & Decker (2013), Developing Helping Skills: A Step by Step Approach to Competency. Belmont, CA. Brooks/Cole, Cengage Learning.
Irma LeBlanc is a Business Development Specialist with The Career Foundation’s Canada-Ontario Job Grant (COJG) Program.