CHAPTER 7: Identifying Good Responses and Poor Responses Introduction This chapter provides some concrete examples of good and poor responses. Those called “poor” are poor in the sense that they tend to block communication and prevent the worker from hearing what is really important. The examples of poor responses are followed by examples of good or constructive responses that encourage another person to talk and feel comfortable doing so. Like learning to drive a car, we learn step by step the ways to structure responses that will facilitate good communication. It is not enough, however, for you to look at these responses and do the exercises. You will soon build a skill in identifying which responses are inadequate and which actually enhance the communication, but this will not teach you to automatically use good responses rather than poor ones. What you are seeking to do is create a conversation between you and your client that flows so that the client feels encouraged to talk, safe about divulging their issues. This chapter is a start, but there is no substitute for practice. In later chapters, you will learn to use constructive responses with more understanding of how they promote rapport and clarity. Even this understanding, however, will not help you to make an automatic response that is therapeutic if you have not practiced. This chapter clarifies which responses are most likely to promote rapport and which are most likely to promote withdrawal and defensiveness. Communication Is a Process We are inclined to think of communication as messages we simply send to another person. In an exchange that person may respond with a message of her own. We know what we mean when we communicate and usually assume that everyone else does as well. If we are misunderstood or our message is not clear when it is received we tend to blame the other person. What got into him today? Why is she overreacting that way? What did he mean by that response? It doesn’t make sense? Likewise, we assume when someone speaks to us that we have pretty much received his message as it was intended. When something people have said doesn’t make sense to us we assume they did not frame their message well or their way of communicating this message is garbled. This is a simple way of looking at communication. A speaks to B and B responds and everyone understands the verbal messages being exchanged. Communication is more than that and for our purposes, where we are engaged in evaluations and empathic interactions, understanding communication on another level is important. Communication Is an Ongoing Exchange When we are talking to another person we are sending and receiving messages, often at the same time, in a rapid, ongoing process. For example, you might give your client information about where she can get help with childcare at the same time she may be giving you a look that lets you know she tried those people and did not like them. You might talk about the need to be on time for appointments while your late client shrugs his shoulders. In talking to one another messages are often more than words and the exchange involves both parties in receiving and sending communications during the encounter. You might be explaining a policy to a person who is interrupting you to complain about a different policy. Communication is rarely a neat exchange where A talks, B listens and fully understands the message, then B responds and A listens and fully understands the response. Communication Involves Meanings When the client made a face about the agency you suggested for childcare how did we know what she meant? In this case we assumed she was making a face to indicate she did not like this particular agency. What if, however, she meant her raised eyebrows and skeptical look to mean she was surprised you would go to all this trouble to help her? It can happen when we speak as well. You might say to someone, “I am sorry you had to go through all that traffic to get here” and the other person hears a different message that you are really sorry the person is late and holding things up. This is especially true when two people involved in a verbal exchange, what we call a conversation, are from different backgrounds, have different cultures, different levels of education, or different life experiences. We can misunderstand each other when one of us is having a bad day, does not feel well, or has different expectations for the encounter. For example, you might think you are helping your client by telling her when and where she can catch the bus home and after the day she has had she may decide you are trying to get rid of her. You might explain your policy about canceling appointments and your client may think you see him as the kind of person who would not cancel but would just not show up when he has an appointment. A person from an Asian country may approach you to drop out of group and when you try to talk about how you could make the group work better for him, he feels you are hurt by his desire to drop out and quickly agrees to stay, nodding agreeably when he really intended to leave the group. You may leave this encounter believing you have solved his issues with group and he may leave upset that he still is committed to coming. Communication Is Transactional Communication is transactional, according to Adler, Rosenfled, and Proctor, 2013. They describe it this way: “(C)ommunication is a dynamic process that the participants create through their interaction with one another” (p. 11). They go on to describe communication as “Something we do with others” (p. 11) or “like dancing” (p. 11) where partners can communicate together beautifully or may instead miss cues and misunderstand messages. This process comes in two parts: First, if we communicate what we mean to communicate and we have a good partner who accurately hears the meaning we intended and second, if we hear other person’s response and accurately grasp the meaning they intended we have great communication. If, on the other hand, we know what we meant and the other person hears another meaning and responds to this different meaning and we are confused by this and do not understand their message in response we do not have good communication. When we talk to others we are together creating an ongoing dialogue. Like a dance, this communication can flow beautifully or someone can figuratively step on someone’s toes. The dialogue we create with our communication partner is unknowable before we start. The result of this communication can be positive, where your communication partner leaves feeling positively about you and your agency. However, in spite of your best intentions your communication partner may go away angry and hurt, feeling misunderstood. What we know is that unfortunate communication can happen when we do not think carefully about the message we wish to send and check with our partner to be sure we understand the meaning he or she wants to convey to us. You will be the partner in countless encounters with clients and other professionals. The focus in the next few chapters is to give you the skills you need to minimize the possibility that communication will go awry. Twelve Roadblocks to Communication* Dr. Thomas Gordon’s (1970) Parent Effectiveness Training provided a useful framework for looking at types of communication with the purpose of finding those responses that encourage a person to talk and feel valued and those that block the communication and discourage disclosure. In his work he outlined 12 specific ways we often block good communication, setting up barriers to real understanding and dialogue. I have adapted these roadblocks to fit the kind of poor communication that sometimes happens in the human service setting. These responses are not helpful in talking with other people. They serve to obstruct rapport and block any constructive resolution of the problem, and they often serve to make our clients feel inferior or demeaned. In the examples of poor responses provided in this chapter, notice the implied superiority of the worker. Individuals who come seeking assistance already feel unsure of themselves and uncertain about what to do. Workers who come across as all-knowing or judgmental are not helpful. An attitude of superiority—giving people the sense that the worker is “talking down” to them—is harmful to the relationship and makes real communication and rapport difficult. Notice how hard it would be for a person to trust and be open after hearing the poor responses. What does one say to someone who appears to be patronizing? Most people stop talking or resort to pleasantries after that, and real communication is blocked. Why continue being open if the responses are not empathic? In addition, you will find that many of the responses are well meaning. They may sound to you like the kind of thing one acquaintance might say to another, but they are not helpful in the case management setting where we want to encourage a person to feel comfortable talking freely, often about difficult subjects. Let’s look at some examples of such negative responses. We look at these poor responses in order to begin to distinguish what we might say that would inadvertently block a constructive relationship between you and your client. It is helpful for you to see these responses, imagine how they might sound to someone seeking help, and recognize how they could stifle further discussion. Ordering, Directing, Commanding The first roadblock involves giving the person an order or command. The assumption made by workers who do this is that they have all the correct answers or all the best solutions and ideas. There is no dialogue or collaboration. In the following examples, the workers take charge without including their clients: • “I don’t care what anyone tells you! You have to go see that lawyer!” • “Go right back over to the courthouse and get those forms!” • “Leave your house and come right down to the office.” • “Look, just go over and apply for the job.” Warning, Admonishing, Threatening Warning of consequences if the person does something is the second roadblock. Workers who do this do not want their clients to follow certain lines of action, often out of concern for the client. Rather than discuss their clients’ inclination to act in a particular way, they warn the client instead. In this next series of responses, the workers here sound as if they know better what is good for the client than the client does: • “If you take that suggestion, I think you will be sorry!” • “You’d better not do that.” • “I can tell you from experience that something like that won’t work!” • “You won’t get your medications if you don’t attend group regularly.” Exhorting, Moralizing, Preaching The third roadblock is telling clients what they should or ought to do. Again, such workers display the belief that they have all the answers. In several of the responses that follow, you can hear the workers imposing their own moral values on their clients. Listen to the “shoulds” and “oughts.” Workers using these two words speak as though what they are saying is a universal given rather than a personal choice or value. • “You should know that doing that is wrong!” • “You shouldn’t think like that.” • “You ought to see a counselor.” • “You ought to be more concerned.” Advising and Giving Solutions or Suggestions Telling clients how to solve their problem is a fourth roadblock. When workers believe their clients have nothing useful to contribute to the resolution of a problem, they will make unilateral decisions without their clients’ input. Some of the following responses indicate the worker’s exasperation with the person. Workers who tell people how to solve their problems believe that their way of seeing the clients’ problems is the only way to see them. The clients are treated as though they are hapless or inadequate for not seeing their problems that way as well. Here are some worker responses that illustrate the point: • “With your husband? We’ll set up marriage counseling and you can tell him what you think in those sessions?” • “I think you just stop seeing this person today.” • “Here is what you need to do. Get your diploma and go on to college.” • “If you listen to yourself, clearly the answer is for you to stop hanging around with them?” Lecturing, Teaching, Giving Logical Arguments The fifth roadblock involves trying to influence with facts, arguments, and logic. In this next series of responses, the workers sound as if they believe their clients are incompetent. Only the workers know the whole picture. These responses by workers do not encourage real discussion of clients’ feelings and problems: • “I am going to give you the facts about domestic violence. If this doesn’t change your mind, I don’t know what will.” • “Look at it this way, the longer you put up with this, the more she gets away with it. People always try to get something for nothing. It is human nature. Your task is to stop it now.” • “Now what you need to do is call the police. That will absolutely circumvent any action on their part and free you to move to another location.” • “Now look, you have two choices. You can either stay or leave. That’s what you have to decide. My vote is with leaving because that ends the problem permanently.” Judging, Criticizing, Disagreeing, Blaming Making a negative judgment or evaluation of clients is the sixth roadblock. In the responses that follow, the workers see themselves as judges of their clients’ behavior. Instead of being supportive, these workers are grading their clients’ behavior. Their responses can only serve to demean a person who is grappling with problems and feels unsure. Here are some examples of such demeaning worker responses: • “You aren’t thinking clearly.” • “You’re very wrong about that.” • “I couldn’t disagree with you more.” • “Your plan is faulty because you never did your research.” • “I think you could have handled that better.” Praising, Agreeing The seventh roadblock is offering a positive judgment or evaluation, or agreeing. Sometimes workers really cannot tolerate the pain clients express about certain situations. In the sample responses that follow, the workers are certainly well-meaning, but their responses cut off any meaningful discussion or further exploration and relieve the workers from having to deal with the real pain their clients might want to talk about. • “Well, I happen to think you did just fine.” • “You’ll figure this out. Don’t worry.” • “It will all work out for the best. You’ll see.” • “You’re smart enough to know what you need to do.” • “You’re bright. You’ll figure it out.” Name-Calling, Ridiculing, Shaming Making clients feel foolish is the eighth roadblock. Perhaps workers who give responses like those that follow are just fed up. They may tell themselves they have a right to express such degrading sentiments because they put up with so much from their clients. Only very untrained and unprofessional workers would ever resort to name-calling, but when it happens, the workers generally try to excuse what they have said by claiming they have endured long-term disgust or exasperation. Here are samples of responses from exasperated workers: • “You’re just an idiot if you do that.” • “Okay, you had to go and do it your way. You’ll see.” • “What you’re doing is totally ridiculous!” • “You act like you never finished first grade!” • “So be a fool. It won’t get you anywhere.” Interpreting, Analyzing, Diagnosing The ninth roadblock consists of telling clients what their motives are, or analyzing their actions. Sometimes, in order to feel vastly superior to their clients, workers will engage in surprise revelations. They often do this to show their clients that they know more about their clients’ inner conflicts than the clients do themselves. In the responses that follow, the workers are informing the clients of their motives and underlying intentions, as though their clients lack self-awareness. • “You’re just upset because you haven’t heard from the lawyer.” • “I think you really wanted to press charges but you just can’t admit that.” • “You don’t really believe that about her. I know that you are just saying it because you wish it were true.” • “What you really mean is that you don’t want to see him anymore.” Reassuring, Sympathizing, Consoling, Supporting Trying to make people feel better or trying to talk them out of their feelings is the tenth roadblock. The following responses are offered as a way of comforting clients, but they serve to cut off real discussion of painful feelings. Telling clients you know how they feel or you understand what they are feeling is not convincing, even if you have had similar experiences. Listening to the feelings is better than cutting them off. Following are responses by workers that tend to cut off clients’ expression of their feelings: • “You’ll feel better in the morning.” • “All new mothers go through this at one time or another.” • “Don’t worry. Things will work out.” • “You’re not alone. Everyone feels the way you do from time to time.” • “I understand how you feel.” We will examine this tenth roadblock further below, looking at why this kind of comforting reply is not always helpful. Probing, Questioning, Interrogating The eleventh roadblock concerns trying to find motives, reasons, and causes. Clients do not always tell their concerns in logical sequence, and there are good ways for workers to go back and fill in the gaps without sounding as though they are prying. In the following examples, however, the workers are actually prying into their clients’ motivations and intentions—areas the clients may not be fully aware of or ready to discuss: • “Just when did you start to feel this way?” • “Why do you suppose you went there that night?” • “Do men ever tell you that they feel violent toward you?” • “What were you really trying to do when you saw her?” • “So why were you so intent on going there with her?” Withdrawing, Distracting, Humoring, Diverting Trying to get clients to focus on something other than the problem is the twelfth roadblock. Sometimes workers are overwhelmed by what their clients have told them. They may feel helpless to make a real difference or offer substantive help. Perhaps they realize that all they can do is listen, but listening is painful and difficult. To save themselves from these uncomfortable feelings of inadequacy and helplessness, workers may resort to responses like the ones that follow: • “Just forget about it!” • “C’mon! How are things at church?” • “Let’s see, you could always run over him in your car.” (chuckle) • “Let’s turn to other things in your life.” • “You’re upset. Why don’t we talk about your cat?” Using the Phrase “I Understand” It is tempting to want to comfort people who are upset with the phrase “I understand.” Sometimes workers say to clients, “I understand how you feel.” Worse yet, a worker might say, “I understand how you feel. That happened to me once.” Often, however, this sounds really trite. Most of us can never fully understand exactly how a client feels. Another phrase some workers use is “I understand, but …” This phrase is even worse. In addition to the fact that we cannot fully understand what a client is experiencing, the but in the phrase tends to negate the person’s very real feelings and push the worker’s perspective instead. Make it a point to refrain from soothing clients with phrases such as “I understand” or “I understand how you feel,” and certainly refrain from saying, “I understand, but …” Instead, you will learn to feed back to the other person the feelings you believe that person is experiencing, giving the other person a much better sense of being understood. Useful Responses In this third section of the book, you will be looking at and practicing responses that enhance communication. Following are several categories of responses that you may find useful as you construct answers to the exercises in this section of the book. Learning to structure good responses is a little like learning to drive a stick-shift car, rather than an automatic one. For years your communication responses to other people have been automatic. They probably worked because you were in relationships other than professional ones. In our friendships and family relations, people communicate in shorthand. These relationships are generally positive and familiar, so others do not need to guess what it is we are saying. Now, as a professional, you are responsible for creating an environment that makes people feel comfortable and safe enough to be open. Clients will not know you very well, if at all, when they come to see you. Therefore, you are in charge of communicating in a way that builds rapport and collaboration in regard to the clients’ problems. This means that at first you will have to think carefully about how you are going to respond before you do so. The good response examples that follow contain openers that you can lift right off the page to get you started on the exercises you will find in later chapters on communication. Use these initial phrases to structure constructive responses. Gradually, as you practice, you will begin to sound more like yourself, and your responses will not seem as rehearsed. At first, however, you need to practice effective ways to answer what another person has said. Using the responses provided here will help you to get started in this process. Ways to Start Responding to Feelings When people are talking to you about something that involves an emotion or feeling, it helps them to feel comfortable and understood if you can identify their feeling and say that back to them. This is part of practicing empathy. When you do so, it is best to structure a single sentence and say nothing more. Anything that you might add to this could take the conversation away from where they are and over to something you have introduced. In addition, do not confuse the person by adding more than one feeling. You might say You must feel so hurt and that would be fine. If you said You must feel so hurt and betrayed your message is less precise and somewhat confusing. Be very careful about this. Here are some useful openers to use when you respond to feelings: • “That must have made you feel …” • “You must feel …” • “You must have felt …” • “That must have been …” • “That must be …” • “It sounds like you’re really feeling …” • “How [sad, upsetting, wonderful] …” • “Sounds like you really feel …” • “You must be …” • “You must feel so …” • “It sounds like you felt …” Ways to Start Responding to Content There are times when you might indicate you heard accurately by responding to the content of what someone has said. In this way, you confirm that you are hearing what the person has told you and confirm for the person how important the details are to you. • “So, it’s important to you that …” • “You’re really concerned about …” • “So you were [he/she was] …” • “Right now you want …” • “So, in other words, …” • “So what happened was …” • “So you decided to …” • “You really need …” • “You’re hoping that …” • “It sounds like they [he/she] …” • “So they [he/she] just …” • “So you just …” Digital Download Download from Ways to Start a Closed Question There are times when you need facts or specific information. Questions that require only a single answer are often referred to as closed questions. Here are some ways to start a closed question. • “What is your …?” • “Where did you …?” • “Who is …?” • “When were you …?” • “Where do you …?” Ways to Start an Open Question When we are listening to clients give background about their concerns and problems, our questions need to be more open to solicit the information the individuals believe is significant. Here are some ways to start an open question. • “Can you describe …?” • “Can you tell me a little bit about …?” • “Could you talk about …?” • “Could you describe more about …?” • “Can you tell me a bit more about …?” • “Can you fill me in on …?” • “Could you clarify that a little bit more for me?” • “Can you tell me something about …?” • “Could you say something about …?” Digital Download Download from Ways to Start an I-Message There will be times when you are concerned about something the client has done or said. You may be worried about something the client intends to do or something the client has not done. In the roadblocks to good communication earlier in this chapter, many of the ways workers brought up their concerns were confrontational and superior. A better way to bring up our own concerns is to indicate that these concerns belong to us. We do this by using the word “I” first. These responses can consist of several sentences and should sound tentative rather than judgmental or decisive. • “I feel …” • “I’m just concerned that …” • “I’m wondering if …” • “It appears to me that …” • “I need to understand …” • “I’m not clear about …” • “I need to kick something around with you.” • “I’m having a problem with …” • “I’m uncomfortable that [with] …” • “I guess what worries me is …” • “I think what I’m most concerned about is …” Notice in these responses how tentative they are. The worker is “wondering’ about something. The worker uses terms like “I guess” or “I think.” This leaves the discussion open for the other person to respond. Useful Ways to Begin a Firmer I-Message There are times when you need to act on behalf of clients. Another person may be unintentionally interfering in some way. This may call for an invitation to help, and that invitation must be worded in a way that is more authoritative, but not offensive. Here are ways to be clear about what you want or need: • “I need you to …” • “It would be very helpful if …” • “I wonder if you could help us by …” • “Could you …” • “Would you please …” • “We need your help to …” Always use please and thank the other person when you make these requests. Digital Download Download from Ways to Show Appreciation for What Has Been Said When clients bring something to your attention that is of concern to them, it is a good idea to let them know you appreciate what they have to say. Sometimes they are telling us about something we or our agency has done that bothers them. Nevertheless, it is always a good idea to show appreciation. Here are some ways to start appreciative responses. • “Thank you for bringing this up.” • “It was good of you to tell me about this.” • “I appreciate your thoughts about this.” • “Thanks for telling me.” • “It’s helpful to me to know this.” • “Thank you for letting us know.” Specific Questions Useful in Beginning to Disarm Anger When clients express anger with us or our organization, it is not constructive to argue with them. Arguing undermines your work with the person and inflames the situation. Instead, showing a genuine interest in what they are telling us is better for maintaining a good relationship. Here are some questions to ask that indicate a genuine interest on your part. By using these responses, you indicate that you really want to understand the problem the client is experiencing with you or your organization. Do not ask the person all of these questions; one or two of them will indicate a real willingness on your part to grasp the issues and make it safe to discuss issues the client may have with you or the agency. Too many questions can make the client feel he or she is being interrogated. • “How did I [we] offend you?” • “What did I [we] do?” • “When did I [we] do this?” • “How often did I [we] do this?” • “What else about me [us] upsets you?” • “What might I [we] do to clear this up?” • “Can you tell me more about what happened?” Examples of Ways to Agree When Practicing Disarming When we are not acting in a professional capacity, it is common to feel very defensive when someone criticizes us. Usually, however, there is a kernel of truth in what the other person is expressing even though it might seem exaggerated or trifling to you. Here are some responses you can use to let clients know that you can see and accept the truth in what they have told you. • “I’m sure I could do better at times.” • “We probably could do things a bit differently.” • “There are people who have had more experience than I have.” • “It may be that we (I) could do things differently.” • “Probably we’re not always aware of these problems.” • “It is very possible that (I) we overlooked this.” • “I certainly can be forgetful at times.” Digital Download Download from Sample Response When You Cannot Change After a heated exchange, an angry client may be expecting that you will change the way you do things. Sometimes you are not able to change things. Maybe you are blocked by the law or because of how a change would affect other clients or staff. When that happens, you need a pleasant way to let the person know you cannot make the requested changes. Here is an example of what you might say: • “I understand your point. We’re going to have to continue this way for now, but it was helpful to hear your concerns.” Sample Response When You Find You Can Compromise At other times, clients make useful suggestions, and the requested changes can be made. Here is an example of how you might respond in such a situation: • “I think you have good ideas and there are some ways we can solve this problem.” Ways to Start Collaboration Nothing really useful can happen for clients if there is no collaboration. Even when clients will be doing most of the work, the word we can soften this fact and create a team approach to the problem. In this way, you let clients know they can trust your intention to be supportive without taking over and forcing a solution. Collaboration has another useful purpose. When done well, it prevents your giving the impression that you feel superior and that you see clients as being helpless and inadequate. Here are some ways to begin collaboration: • “Perhaps we can …” • “Maybe we can [could] …” • “Let’s [look at this together, look at your options, see what we can find out about this].” • “We can [could] …” • “Why don’t we …” • “We might …” • “You and I together can [could] …” Ways to Involve the Client in Collaboration Sometimes clients do not participate. You make suggestions, and the clients simply go along with them. If this happens often, the clients are not collaborating or participating in solutions to problems they own. There are ways to help people become more involved. Here are some examples: Start with an I-Message • “I’m wondering if we …” • “It occurs to me that we …” • “I am just thinking that perhaps we …” • “I guess what concerns me is …” • “I think I am worried about …” Finish with a Question or Comment That Invites Collaboration • “What do you think?” • “I’m wondering what you think.” • “What thoughts do you have?” • “Maybe you see it differently.” • “You probably have some ideas too.” • “But it’s important to me to know how you see it.” • “But I think what would really be helpful is to hear your ideas about it.” • “How do you see it?” • “What are your suggestions?” False Praise versus Positive Feedback Earlier in the chapter in the discussion of roadblocks to communication, some examples of ways workers might praise clients were presented. These statements do not contain real information clients can use. It is all right to give people positive feedback, but not to say something trivial that contains no information clients can use in the future when they encounter difficulties. When you give positive feedback to a client, structure what you have to say to include information the person can use. For instance, suppose a client worked on and solved a tax problem. Rather than just praising the fact that she solved the problem, it might be better to point out information about the client she can use in the future. Here is an example of how to do that. “I thought you handled the people at the tax office very well. You asked the right questions and didn’t get flustered, and I think that really helped to resolve the problem.” Now the client has been given feedback that identifies traits that might be helpful to her in the future: She seemed capable of talking to others and asking the right questions, and she was able to communicate without becoming flustered. This kind of response is much better than one like, “See how smart you are?” Following is another example of good feedback that contains useful information for the client. “I think it has taken real determination for you to stay sober this long. I’m just impressed with how you have managed an entire week like this.” Again, this is a statement that gives the client useful information: The worker believes the client has “determination.” This is something he can rely on in the future when times are tough. Thus, such a response is better than something like, “Good for you! You’re still sober!” Minor Problems The following examples demonstrate some of the minor problems you might encounter during your communication with your clients. Minor Problem One. You assess your client’s feelings incorrectly. For instance, you might misinterpret a client’s underlying feelings and thoughts. You might say, “You must have felt sick when you saw what the accident did to your car.” The client might respond by telling you she really did not feel sick. Instead, she was angry—furious, in fact—at the other driver who stood there and screamed at her. It is always possible that clients may correct you in this way. This is positive. It allows people to make you aware of what they are really feeling and thinking, bringing you much greater clarity. Minor Problem Two. Your mind wanders. At times you may not be listening attentively. Something has happened at home; you just finished handling a personal problem; or you hoped to go home before 4:00 P.M. and now it is 5:00 P.M. and this new issue may take some time. Your mind leaves the immediate situation and wanders to your personal concerns. Of course you do not want this to happen often, but it will happen. If you are practicing good body language, sitting in a way that communicates interest and attention to the client, these momentary shifts in your focus will not be damaging to your relationship. Major Problems The following are examples of major problems that can occur during your communication with your clients that are not at all useful. Major Problem One. You cannot wait to pass judgment. Sometimes workers listen to clients, but their minds are full of judgments they want to make about what the people have said. Rather than truly listening, these workers are judging the clients in regard to how well the clients handled their situations, whether the clients were smart or stupid, and whether the clients were on top of things or lax in taking care of the situations. Such workers cannot wait for clients to be quiet so they can give an authoritative judgment. Rather than listening, these workers are preoccupied with what they plan to say in response. This is unprofessional listening. We might do this with our friends and relations, but it has no place in a professional relationship. Major Problem Two. You ignore the client’s feelings. Another way to miss the important issues is to focus entirely on content and never hear the meaning this situation has for the client. In other words, you fail to practice empathy. Instead of commenting, “How difficult it must have been,” the worker goes on about the actual details, “So actually this happened in town.” There is a place for this kind of listening, listening to content, but when you do this exclusively and never talk about feelings, important opportunities are missed for healing and building rapport. Major Problem Three. You cannot wait to offer the solution, to give advice. Opportunities are lost for establishing rapport and understanding. If the worker does not acknowledge the feelings a client is expressing and rushes to a solution, the person may not feel they were really heard. Some workers rush right past the feelings to the solutions. Rather than saying, “You must have found that so painful,” such a worker would say something like, “Well, you’ll need to see a lawyer about this. There is a good one around the corner that we use a lot, and I can probably get you in to see her in the next day or so.” Anyone can tell a client he needs a good lawyer. Only a very good listener is able to respond with empathy to the underlying feelings present in the client’s story. Major Problem Four. You feel an overwhelming need to get to the bottom of the problem and solve it. You feel the client is expecting you to do just that and you are trying to figure out the solution and so you begin to ask a lot of closed questions, one right after the other. “Did you ask your aunt about it? Did she tell where your cousin is? Did you try to reach your cousin? Is there a reason your cousin did not call you directly? Where do you think your cousin is?” You ask and the client answers and in your head you are trying desperately to construct a solution for the client. In this case it would have been better to start with one open question, “Tell me more about your cousin’s leaving,” and follow up with other open questions that seek what the client is thinking would be the best solution here. Summary This chapter has provided you with a sense of how good and bad responses sound. Good responses are constructive responses that promote rapport, facilitate collaboration, and build trust; poor responses block rapport, understanding, and further exploration. Knowing how these two different kinds of responses sound, however, and actually using them are two different things. To become proficient, you must practice. In each chapter in this third section of the book, different types of responses are discussed along with what they are intended to accomplish in a therapeutic sense. Each chapter contains a series of exercises. To do these exercises, at least initially, turn back to this chapter and refer to the examples of useful responses provided in it. Use these sample openers as a springboard to developing constructive replies of your own. Video Example To view the videos that accompany this book, go to • “Case Management with an At-Risk Individual”—To see these responses in an actual interview you can view the video segments online. Those segments (1, 6, 10, 12, 14, 16) where case managers are talking with their clients demonstrate how these techniques are applied when talking to other people. Exercises These exercises can also be filled out online at Exercises: Identifying Roadblocks Instructions: Following are various scenarios illustrating workers’ responses in a variety of situations. Examine the responses in each case and decide whether the worker is blocking communication or enhancing it. Do the worker’s responses cut off further communication from the other person or seem to encourage the person to continue? Circle your answer after each vignette. 1. Carlos is afraid his mother is dying. He is talking to the worker in the hospital emergency room about an “attack” his mother seemed to have when she could not breathe and turned blue. She was brought to the hospital in an ambulance, and Carlos is waiting to see whether she will be all right. He is distraught. The worker says, “You certainly did the right thing to call the ambulance. Don’t worry she’ll be all right. We have very good doctors here.” Can Carlos continue to express his anxiety freely? EnhancedBlocked 2. Anita and her family moved, and her parents feel Anita is not adjusting well to the move. Anita wants to return to her old school to be with her friends. Her parents ask the worker to talk to Anita about her desire to return to her former school. Anita talks about how strange the new school is and how much she misses her old friends. The worker replies, “Tell me something about your friends where you used to live.” Can Anita continue to tell the worker what she misses about her old school? EnhancedBlocked 3. Elvita has decided to leave an abusive relationship, but she feels guilty leaving her abuser’s children behind. She talks about how she knows that once she leaves, she cannot have any more contact with the children; and she is worried about how that will affect these children whom she has come to love and wants to protect. The worker asks, “Just when did you start to think of these children as if they were your own?” Can Elvita continue to discuss her concerns about her abuser’s children? EnhancedBlocked 4. Ed suffers from chronic mental illness and needs medications to maintain his mental health. Recently he went to several workshops on the use of supplements and vitamins to maintain mental health. He wants to discuss these ideas with his worker. He makes it clear that he is not really thinking of going off his prescriptions, but he would like to consider trying these supplements in addition to his medication. The worker says, “It sounds like you really got a lot out of that workshop.” Can Ed continue to explore the things he learned at the workshop with the worker? EnhancedBlocked 5. Shawna wants to go to college. She attended a poor rural school where most of the students do not go on to college. Her scores for the entrance exams were very poor in math, and she feels unsure that the developmental course being offered to her at the college will really help her catch up. She seems anxious and uncertain. The worker says, “You don’t seem to quite understand what developmental courses are. Look at the number of people who take them. Look at how many of those people finish school. You need to think about this a little less emotionally.” Will Shawna feel comfortable in the future talking about her concerns about going to college with this worker? EnhancedBlocked 6. Ada is very upset over the divorce settlement. She got the house and the children, but very meager support and only a small amount to go to school to upgrade her skills. As she speaks with the worker, she is crying and expresses the belief that she cannot make it. The worker replies, “Look, get another lawyer. You’re going to have to just face the fact that you had a lawyer who wasn’t serving you. Go back to court! Reopen the case! Make a stink!” Will Ada be able to talk about her divorce with this worker? EnhancedBlocked 7. Lindsey is an alcoholic and tells her worker she wants to stop drinking but doesn’t know how. She tells the worker that for a while she stopped drinking while she was going to AA meetings, but she stopped going and began to drink again when she reunited with old friends. The worker says, “Here’s the bottom line. You either do what you need to do or you don’t. Don’t come in here crying about how you stopped AA. That’s your responsibility to go there—so go!” Can Lindsey continue to talk about options for not drinking with this worker? EnhancedBlocked 8. Reynaldo just lost his job and is frantic about how he will pay the rent. He talks to the worker about how he will pay his rent and whether he will be eligible for unemployment. In the course of the conversation, he mentions his fear of going home to face his wife. He does not believe she will understand. The worker says, “Well, you’re mostly upset because you’re afraid of your wife and what she’s going to say about this.” Will Reynaldo want to continue to express his worries with this worker? EnhancedBlocked 9. Tonda is discussing her need for help with a depression that, she says, started several months ago. She talks about the amount of time she has missed at work and how it has reached a point where she sleeps most of the day. The worker says, “Tell me a little bit about what was going on when this all started.” Can Tonda continue to discuss her depression with this worker? EnhancedBlocked 10. Persis has been clean for 9 months and comes in to see her case manager about how she is really tempted to use again. Persis asks if there is something more she can do. The worker says, “Oh, come on. It’s been 9 months. Get down to business and focus on the good things in your life. It’s all up to you whether you use or not.” Can Persis continue to explore her temptation to go back on drugs with this worker? EnhancedBlocked *Adapted with permission from Parent Effectiveness Training, by Thomas Gordon. Copyright © 1970 Random House, Inc.