Active presence

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Based on the readings for this week, address the following:

  • What are the main characteristics needed in an effective helping relationship?
  • Why are these skills necessary?
  • Of these identified characteristics, identify and analyze one strength and one weakness you feel you have.

PART II

THE THERAPEUTIC DIALOGUE: MASTER COMMUNICATION AND RELATIONSHIP-BUILDING SKILLS



Chapter 4



HAVE EMPATHIC PRESENCE: TUNE IN AND LISTEN

Part II of The Skilled Helper deals with the communication skills needed to engage clients in a therapeutic dialogue. The quality of the dialogue affects everything in the problem-management process. This chapter has three parts: the importance of dialogue, the skill of attending or tuning in, and the skill of active listening.

RECOGNIZE THE IMPORTANCE OF DIALOGUE

As useful as dialogue might be in human communication, it is not that common—at least in its fullness. Helpers need to become skilled in dialogue themselves and in helping clients engage in dialogue.

EXERCISE 4.1: UNDERSTAND AND PERSONALIZING THE FOUR REQUIREMENTS OF TRUE DIALOGUE

a. Read the section in Chapter 4 that describes the requirements of a true dialogue—turn taking, connecting, mutual influencing, and cocreating outcomes.

b. Think of an important and, if possible, relatively recent conversation that went poorly.

c. Which elements of dialogue were missing or done poorly and therefore might have contributed to the conversation’s poor outcome?

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d. Next, think of an important conversation that went well.

e. Which elements of effective dialogue might have contributed to the success of this conversation?

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f. Share your findings with a learning partner.

g. Rate yourself (1-7) on your competence in engaging in dialogue and generally conducting serious conversations in the spirit of dialogue. _____

EXERCISE 4.2: USE DIALOGUE IN EVERYDAY LIFE

Not all conversations need to be true dialogues. However, most conversations would probably be more productive if they were conducted in the spirit of dialogue. Often enough, dialogue in its fullest sense would make a big difference to the outcome of the conversation.

1. In this exercise, have a conversation with your learning partner. Choose any topic that has some substance and is agreeable to both of you. Talk for about 10 minutes. Make a video of the session.

2. After 10 minutes, play the video and debrief the conversation in the light of the requirements of dialogue.

The subject of the conversation. What was the conversation about? What substance did it have? Did it have enough substance to warrant a serious dialogue?

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In what ways did it live up to the requirements of dialogue?

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In what way did it fail to live up to these requirements?

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3. Continue the conversation for another five minutes. Video it. Make every effort to make it a dialogue. After five more minutes, stop and review the video with your partner. Discuss what progress was made. What positive outcome, if any, did the two of you cocreate through the conversation? Determine what it would take to make dialogue or the spirit of dialogue second nature to your communication style.

ATTEND TO YOUR CLIENT BY VISIBLY TUNING IN

Your posture, gestures, facial expressions, and voice all send nonverbal messages to your clients. The purpose of the exercises in this section is to make you aware of the different kinds of nonverbal messages you send to clients through such things as body posture, facial expressions, and voice quality, and how to use nonverbal behavior to make contact and communicate with them. It is important that what you say verbally is reinforced rather than muddled or contradicted by your nonverbal messages. There are two important messages about nonverbal behavior in this chapter. First, use your posture, gestures, facial expressions, and voice to send messages you want to clients to hear, such as, “I’m listening to you very carefully” or “I know what you’re saying is difficult for you, but I’m with you.” Second, become aware of the messages your clients are sending to you through their nonverbal behaviors. Learn how to understand them without overinterpreting them.

EXERCISE 4.3: WATCH YOURSELF IN ACTION

After reading the section on visibly tuning in, replay the videos that you made for Exercise 4.2. Debrief them with your learning partner. How effectively did you tune in? How did your nonverbal behavior contribute to or detract from the dialogue? How would you describe your psychological presence? Provide constructive feedback to each other.

EXERCISE 4.4: VISIBLY TUNE IN TO OTHERS IN EVERYDAY CONVERSATIONS

This is another exercise for you to do outside the training group in your everyday life. Observe the way you attend to others for a week or two—at home, with friends, at school, at work. Observe the quality of your presence to others when you engage in conversations with them. Of course, even being asked to “watch yourself” will induce changes in your behavior; you will probably tune in more effectively than you ordinarily do. The purpose of this exercise is to sensitize you to attending behaviors in general and to get some idea of what your day-to-day attending style looks like. First, though, read about the skills of tuning in or attending in The Skilled Helper.

1. Rate yourself right now on a scale of 1-7 on how effectively you think you pay attention or tune in to others—your physical and psychological presence—in your everyday conversations. ____

2. Without becoming preoccupied with every little behavior, watch yourself for a week as you tune in (or fail to tune in) to others in your everyday conversations—that is, how you are present to those with whom you interact.

3. What are you like when you are with others, especially in serious situations? What do you do well? What do you fail to do?

4. After the week has passed, rerate yourself. ____

5. What have you learned about your conversation style through this exercise? Read the following example, and then write your own summary of what you have learned about yourself.

Example. Here is what one trainee wrote: “I found myself tuning in better to people I like. When I was with someone neutral, I found that my eyes and my mind would wander. I also found that it’s easier for me to tune in to others when I’m rested and alert. When I’m physically uncomfortable or tired, I don’t put in much effort to tune in. I was unpleasantly surprised to find out how easily distracted I am. Often I was there, but I really wasn’t there. However, simply by paying attention to tuning in skills, I was with others more fully, even with neutral people. I’m just beginning to become aware of the quality of my psychological presence in conversations.”

6. Describe your style of interacting with others.

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7. Name two things you could do to improve how you are present to others.

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EXERCISE 4.5: OBSERVE AND GIVE FEEDBACK ON QUALITY OF PRESENCE

In the training sessions, make sure that your nonverbal behavior is helping you work effectively with others and sending the messages you want to send. This exercise, then, pertains to the entire length of the training program. You are asked to give ongoing feedback both to yourself and to the other members of the training group on the quality of your presence to one another as you interact, learn, and practice helping skills. Recall especially the basic elements of visibly tuning in summarized by the acronym SOLER. Here is a checklist to help you provide that feedback to yourself and your fellow helpers. Review the criteria for giving useful feedback found in the Introduction to the Exercises.

• How effectively are you using postural cues to indicate your willingness to work with the client?

• In what ways do you distract clients and observers from the task at hand, for instance, by fidgeting?

• How flexible are you when engaging in SOLER behaviors? To what degree do these behaviors help you be with the client?

• How natural is it for you to tune in to the client? What indications are there that you are not being yourself?

• To what degree is your psychological presence reflected in your physical presence?

• What are you like when you miss the mark?

• What are you like when you are at your best?

The ongoing question is: What do I have to do to become more effectively present to my clients both physically and psychologically? Your posture and nonverbal behavior are an important part of your presence, but there is more to presence than SOLER activities. There are the values and spirit you bring to your encounters with your clients.

ENGAGE IN ACTIVE LISTENING

Read the sections on active listening in Chapter 4 of The Skilled Helper. Effective helpers are active listeners. When you listen to clients, you listen to their stories. Some of the elements of these stories are:

• their experiences, what they see as happening to them;

• their behaviors, what they do or fail to do;

• their affect, the feelings and emotions that arise from their experiences and behaviors;

• the core messages in their stories;

• their points of view expressed in their stories, including the reasons for their points of view and the implications for holding any given point of view;

• the decisions they are making, together with the reasons for those decisions and their implications or possible consequences;

• their intentions and proposals, that is, the goals they want to pursue and the actions they intend to engage in;

• the wider context of their stories, points of view, decisions, and intentions; and

• any particular slant they tend to give to any or all of the above.

Helpers listen carefully in order to respond with both understanding and at times, as we shall see later, some sort of invitation to self-challenge. Let’s start by having you listen to yourself.

EXERCISE 4.6: LISTEN TO YOURSELF AS A PROBLEM SOLVER

In this exercise, you are asked to “listen to yourself” in retrospect as you worked through some important problem situation or spotted and developed some unused opportunity. Retell the story to yourself in summary form.

Example. Here is Acantha’s story in summary form. “What I have to say is retrospective. I don’t believe I was thinking this clearly back then. I got drunk during a football game and don’t recall clearly what happened afterwards. I woke up in a guy’s room. I knew I had been violated. I had no intention of having sex. At this point I became very aware of what I was doing. My intention that day was to relax and have fun. My assumption was that no one I was with had any ulterior motives. In one way I was not thinking straight. I should never have drunk too much, but at the time I did not say that to myself. I never made a decision to throw caution to the wind, but I did by letting others help me get drunk. My decision making abilities were lost. As soon as I woke up I began gathering my resources. I went for a long walk and thought things through. I decided not to confront anyone except myself. Although I hoped that I would not be pregnant, I began thinking how I would handle a pregnancy. Finally, I thought I needed to talk all of this through with a friend or, perhaps better, an objective counselor.”

1. Debrief Acantha’s story by answering the following questions.

What was the issue?

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What were her key experiences, that is, what happened to her?

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What points of view of hers were involved?

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What decisions did she make?

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What emotions did she experience and express?

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What did she do to cope with the problem or develop the opportunity?

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2. Now provide a case from your own life that describes how you managed a problem situation.

3. Debrief by answering the above questions.

EXERCISE 4.7: LISTEN TO YOURSELF AS A PERSON WITH FEELINGS AND EMOTIONS

Since emotions are strong motivators for good or for bad and permeate stories, points of view, decisions, and intentions, we turn to an exercise on emotions. If you are to listen to the feelings and emotions of clients, you first should be familiar with your own emotional states and your own style of emotional expression. This exercise is about your emotional style.

1. A lot has been written about “emotional intelligence.” Find an article that summarizes current thinking about emotional intelligence and its place in people’s lives. You will soon discover that, for many, the concept of emotional intelligence covers a lot more than emotions. It is an answer to the question: What does adult maturity look like? But let’s start with feelings and emotions. Answer the following question about yourself as an “emotional” person.

What role do emotions play in your life?

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How effectively do you control or manage negative emotions such as anger or hurt?

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Which emotions are hardest for you to manage? What happens?

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What role do positive emotions such as eagerness, joy, and contentment play in your life?

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Comment on this statement: There is no such thing as a perfect emotional style.

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1. A number of emotional states are listed below. Choose three of the emotions listed below or others not on the list. Try your hand at the emotions you have difficulty with. It’s important to listen to yourself when you are experiencing emotions that are not easy for you to handle.

2. Describe what you feel when you have each of these emotions. Describe what you feel as concretely as possible: How does your body react? What happens inside you? What do you feel like doing?

3. Picture to yourself situations in which you have experienced each of these three emotions.

4. What feelings are you most likely to avoid? Why?

Consider the following examples. Then, as in the examples, write down on a sheet of paper what you experienced.

Example 1—Accepted:

When I feel accepted,

• I feel warm inside.

• I feel safe.

• I feel free to be myself.

• I feel like sitting back and relaxing.

• I feel I can let my guard down.

• I feel like sharing myself.

• I feel some of my fears easing away.

• I feel at home.

• I feel at peace.

• I feel my loneliness melting away.

Example 2—Scared:

When I feel scared,

• my mouth dries up.

• my bowels become loose.

• there are butterflies in my stomach.

• I feel like running away.

• I feel very uncomfortable.

• I feel the need to talk to someone.

• I turn in on myself.

• I’m unable to concentrate.

• I feel very vulnerable.

• I sometimes feel like crying.

List of Emotions

1. accepted

2. affectionate

3. afraid

4. angry

5. anxious

6. attracted

7. bored

8. competitive

9. confused

10. defensive

11. desperate

12. disappointed

13. free

14. frustrated

15. guilty

16. hopeful

17. hurt

18. inferior

19. interested

20. intimate

21. jealous

22. joyful

23. lonely

24. loving

25. rejected

26. respected

27. sad

28. satisfied

29. shocked

30. shy

31. superior

32. suspicious

33. trusting

The reason for this exercise is to sensitize yourself to the wide variety of ways in which clients express and name their feelings and emotions. Diversity in emotional expression style is the norm.

Although the feelings and emotions of clients (not to mention your own) are extremely important, sometimes helpers concentrate too much, or rather too exclusively, on them. Feelings and emotions need to be understood, both by helpers and by clients, in the context of the experiences and behaviors that give rise to them. On the other hand, when clients hide their feelings, both from themselves and from others, then it is necessary to listen carefully to cues indicating the existence of suppressed, ignored, or unmanaged emotions.

LISTEN THOUGHTFULLY TO CLIENTS’ STORIES

Listening thoughtfully means identifying the key elements of clients’ stories—experiences, thoughts, behaviors, and feelings—and the relationships among them. Thoughtful listening is a function of empathy.

EXERCISE 4.8: LISTEN FOR CORE MESSAGES

Core messages are the main points of a client’s story. The ingredients of core messages are key experiences, key thoughts, and key behaviors, together with the key feelings or emotions associated with them. In this exercise, you are asked to “listen to” and identify the key experiences and behaviors that give rise to the client’s main feelings.

1. Listen very carefully to what the client is saying.

2. Identify the client’s key experiences, what he or she says is happening or has happened to him or her.

3. Identify the client’s key thoughts—what is going through his or her mind.

4. Identify the client’s key behaviors, what he or she is doing, not doing, or failing to do.

5. Identify the key feelings and emotions associated with these experiences and behaviors.

Example: A 27-year-old African American man is talking to a minister about a visit with his mother the previous day. He says, “I just don’t know what got into me! She kept nagging me the way she always does, asking me why I don’t visit her more often. I kept asking myself where did all of this come from. I knew I should have tried to reason with her or just say nothing, but, as she went on, I got more and more angry. (He looks away from the counselor down toward the floor.) I finally began screaming at her. I told her to get off my case. (He puts his hands over his face.) I can’t believe what I did. I called her a bitch. (Shaking his head.) I called her a bitch several times and then I left and slammed the door in her face.”

Key experiences: Mother’s nagging.

Key thoughts: What have I done to deserve this? I should keep my mouth shut.

Key behaviors: Losing his temper, yelling at her, calling her a name, slamming the door in her face.

Feelings/emotions generated: He now feels embarrassed, guilty, ashamed, distraught, disappointed with himself, remorseful. (Note carefully: This man is not at this moment expressing anger. Rather, he is talking about his anger, the way he lets his temper get away from him.)

Now do the same with the following cases.

1. A 40-year-old Hispanic woman, married with no children, has had several sessions with a counselor. She went because she was bored and felt that all the color had gone out of her life. In a later session, she says this: “These counseling sessions have really done me a great deal of good! I’ve worked hard in these sessions, and it’s paid off. I enjoy my work more. I actually look forward to meeting new people. My husband and I are talking more seriously and decently to each other. At times he’s even tender toward me the way he used to be. Now that I’ve begun to take charge of myself more and more, there’s just so much more freedom in my life!”

Client’s key experiences:

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Client’s key thoughts:

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Client’s key behaviors:

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How does the client feel about these experiences, thoughts, and behaviors?

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2. A 20-year-old Asian American male college student who has volunteered to work with struggling high school students finds that he is learning more than he imagined he would. He tells his college advisor what it’s like: “These kids deal with problems I have never had to face. Some days we’ll start by working on some bit of homework but before we’re done they’re talking about being afraid of the gangs on the way to and from school. This one kid starts and ends each day by helping his mom who has MS. In the morning he gets her up and dresses her and in the evening he gets her ready for bed. Some days I do as much listening as talking. I go home wondering about my own life. I get embarrassed when I think of the ways I whine about my own problems. Many of these kids have a type of maturity about them you don’t see in people who have lived as comfortably as I have. Boy do I have a lot to learn!”

Client’s key experiences:

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Client’s key thoughts:

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Client’s key behaviors:

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How does the client feel about these experiences, thoughts, and behaviors?

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3. A 33-year-old unmarried woman has recently learned that she is HIV-positive. “When I first learned about this I was devastated. The end. The curtain is coming down. But one morning I woke up and said to myself, ‘Do something.’ I did. I got on the net and learned everything I could about this. I spent days studying it. And, you know, I’m going to beat it. I’m going to get physically fit. I’m going to get my head together. I’m going to take the drugs that keep you going. I’m not sure how I’m going to afford them, but I’ll get them. I’m going to volunteer for some experimental approaches. I don’t know how you get on the list, but somehow I will. I’m going to beat this thing.”

Name some of the things that are going on inside the woman’s head.

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What do you think is key?

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LISTEN THOUGHTFULLY FOR OPPORTUNITIES

Spotting and understanding clients’ opportunities is just as important as understanding their problems. Often exploiting opportunities is the best way to manage problems. Therefore, active listening includes listening for possible opportunities, which if pursued would help clients manage problem situations more effectively.

EXERCISE 4.11: LISTEN TO KEY OPPORTUNITIES

The instructions for this exercise are the same as those for the previous exercise.

Case 1. Ken, a 45-year-old African American man, has just been passed up for a promotion. He is talking with his supervisor who was a strong supporter. He starts by talking about his disappointment. But his supervisor points out that staying in his present position will allow him to see a project he started through to completion. Ken shifts his focus to the opportunity side of the event: “You may have a point. In fact, during my entire career I’ve been so focused on my next job that I’ve tended to do a lot of switching horses in mid-stream—taking new jobs before projects were really completed. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not giving up on seeking promotions around here. But, I like what I’m doing and now I can give it my undivided energy. I suppose that people have to see that I can see things through, that I can get results with the best of them. Moving too quickly in the past has prevented them from seeing me at my best.”

What is the opportunity?

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What are the upside and the downside?

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How does Ken feel about it?

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Case 2. A 43-year-old Caucasian woman has suffered a major financial setback in her small consulting business. She has just been offered a good position in a large consulting firm. “Lots of people would jump at this offer. The firm is solid, the job is challenging, and the pay is good. I’m really tempted. But I have really enjoyed being my own boss and building something out of nothing. If I take the offer, I’ll have a boss again. Though I suppose that the economy has been my boss. The downturn is killing me. The little guys are the first to lose business. I do like the security I would have in the new job. But I know I won’t be able to be as creative as I am when I’m on my own.”

What is the opportunity?

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What are the upside and the downside?

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How does she feel about it?

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UNDERSTAND CLIENTS’ PROBLEMS AND OPPORTUNITIES THROUGH CONTEXT

EXERCISE 4.12: USE CONTEXT FOR THOUGHTFUL PROCESSING

Becoming a thoughtful processor requires two things—following the main points of the clients’ stories (point of view, decision, or intention) as they unfold and at the same time placing it in the context of their lives. This exercise is designed to demonstrate the power of context.

1. Reread in the text “Process What You Hear in a Thoughtful Search for Meaning.”

2. Share a problem or unexploited opportunity from your own life with a learning partner. Provide no background or context during the conversation.

3. Discuss the issue for 5 to 10 minutes.

4. When you have finished, tell your partner about the circumstances of your life that give added meaning to what you have shared. Discuss how the context changes the meaning of the problem or unexploited opportunity.

5. Reverse roles and give your learning partner a chance to do the same thing.

Example. A counseling trainee who is a veteran from the conflict in Afghanistan, 26, discusses how difficult it is to get back into the mainstream of society—family, community, culture, and now a professional education program. He talks about how a military mindset keeps stalking him. For instance, For instance, many of the things he is now doing seem trivial in comparison to battlefield demands. He says, “In some significant ways I’m still in Afghanistan.” He finds that engaging in leisure activities, such as watching television or going to a movie with his girlfriend puts him on edge. He does not have the symptoms that go with PTSD—no “jitters, no nightmares,” he says—but he just does not feel right.

Context. This counseling trainee comes from a Quaker background. He feels that some of his family members were disappointed when he joined the army and even more disappointed when he went to Afghanistan. But no one said anything to him. When he came home at the end of his first tour of duty, he was welcomed, certainly, but his community—family and friends—seemed different. Was he different or did they feel differently about him? He joined the army not because he was a great patriot, but because he thought he had to do something meaningful for others “on the big screen.” He felt guilty about being “a person of privilege” and wanted to help people who were suffering in ways he never dreamed of. But he did not share these sentiments with anyone. Keeping things to yourself had been part of the culture of his community. Discuss with a partner how this context colors his story. Then, carry out the exercise.

ACKNOWLEDGE THE SHADOW SIDE OF LISTENING

Since effective helpers are active listeners, it helps to learn about your own listening style—both the upside and the downside.

EXERCISE 4.13: FINDING THE SHADOW SIDE OF YOUR LISTENING STYLE

In this exercise, you are asked to take an objective look at your style of listening and the way you process what you hear.

1. What kind of active listener are you? Give a brief, balanced description.

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2. Reread “Identify and Deal with All Forms of Distorted Listening.” Indicate below any areas of listening you think you should work on.

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3. Discuss your description of yourself as a listener and processor together with your shadow-side self-assessment with a learning partner. Talk about the implications of your shadow-side traits. Indicate possible actions you can take to overcome whatever deficiencies you discover.


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