Issues with CommunicationJason Firmager
This article has previously been published in a past print issue of Holistic Therapist Magazine, it is such valued advice, that we wish for our online readers to benefit from the expertise of the Managing Director of Balens Ltd, David Balen, who provides advice on overcoming issues with client relationships
How you verbally communicate directly with your clients will have an impact upon the success or otherwise of your business. Most therapists and Natural Health-Professionals tend to run small business environments, which revolve around them personally and so the importance of happy clients (or employees and collaborators) based on good quality communication and listening skills is all-important. So many complaints and claims we see arise from misunderstandings, which can lead to an inadequate client relationship. Of course we don’t just communicate with our clients. There are regulators, educators, suppliers, colleagues and peers, the media, social and family circles.
The rapid fire communication environment of social and online media poses particular problems. Responses to texting and emails can pressurise us into making ill-considered comments all too quickly, and sometimes too publicly! Boundary issues between client and friend can be blurred if a therapist is over familiar, friendly and too much personal information is shared. If things do not go well, it is so easy these days to spread bad publicity or negativity through blogs, forums, and websites etc., potentially causing reputational damage.
So It is important to reflect on and revise where helpful, your own style of communication. If you are not confident, maybe consider doing some inner work alone or with someone- a counsellor, mentor or professional helper etc. There are various courses and workshops to attend and you may be able to claim the expenses as CPD.
It is important to recognised that communication is not just in the language and words we use, but in our tone and perhaps more importantly for any business, in our non-verbal communication. All this is fed into by our various personality traits and tendencies, our life experiences, cultural and family habits and much more; so the drivers and underpins to our behaviour are enormously varied.
As a brief example we could consider Jung’s definitions of the four main psychological types: Sensation (practical, tangible world-people), Intuition (ideas and inspiration,) Feeling (expressing through the emotions and desires) and Thinking (using a rational approach, categorising and analysing). Of course no one is usually only one type or another but a mixture. There are countless other models one could consider, but they all colour the way we communicate. A mainly “thinking” focussed person trying to communicate with a mainly “Feeling” focussed person, may sometimes sound like both parties are talking a different language even though they are speaking in English! Although opposites can complement one another they can also rub each other up the wrong way! It is important to understand what levels your clients operate on and adjust your style accordingly.
For you as a Health Professional non-verbal communication is not just about your body language, you communicate in other areas, for example…
- Presentation – choice of dress and appearance
- Place of business – cleanliness, upkeep, décor, contents
- Advertising and promotional material – clarity, style, choice of images
- Web presence – Website and social media, ease of navigation of the size, how regularly is the information updated, general ‘look’
- Administration systems – speed of response to enquiries, complaints or compliments, how you maintain contact when not seeing them
People often judge others very quickly, often on superficial criteria, sometimes on a “gut” or intuitive sense, so any way you can improve and be ahead of the game in how you relate and communicate to the outside world is to be encouraged.
As I’m sure you are aware, clients tend to vote with their feet and whilst they can have numerous reasons for not continuing the relationship, it is unlikely that you will know why unless you specifically ask. Although this may be difficult, it is useful if done well.
Complaints that are handled well can turn a negative situation into a positive experience, but if handled badly can result in lost business and reputational damage, with the potential to have a financial impact upon your business, not to mention the cost of the time it will take you to deal with the issues, and the possible emotional impact on you.
In dealing with complaint situations it may be helpful to consider the following model of communication styles all of which may come into play-
Passive – Compliant, submissive, vague, non-committal, puts self-down
Aggressive – Superior, critical, bullying, sarcastic, disrespectful of others
Assertive – Clear, direct, firm but polite, respectful of self and others
Clearly, the “Assertive” style is the one to adopt not only in challenging situations, but in your general professional persona. Even if you have no doubts about your own verbal and non-verbal communication abilities and experience, as with all things in life, you can always find new things to learn and there is a wealth of material out there to encourage and help you.
For further information on Issues with Communication please also see the CPD Lecture ‘Negotiating the Boundaries – Managing difficult situations with your clients’ at balens.co.uk/cpd where other Balen Client Education Material about managing your practice can also be found.