This past spring, I watched my fiancé graduate from Nursing School. Being present through her process, some of what she learned transferred to me. I began reflecting on how much I learned about the healthcare field and how it relates to business.
The relationship elements of this job share considerable overlap in communication techniques I use in my role as a project manager team leader at work. I felt it was worth discussing the commonalities. In school, nurses are taught Therapeutic Communication, a practice that focuses on “Advancing the physical and emotional well-being of a patient,” through utilizing 16 communication techniques.
Therapeutic Communication Techniques
To encourage the expression of feelings and ideas
- Active Listening– Requires being attentive to what the client is saying, verbally and non-verbally.
- Sharing Observations– Requires making observations by commenting on how the other person looks, sounds, or acts.
- Sharing Empathy– Uses the ability to understand and accept another person’s reality, to accurately perceive feelings, and to communicate understanding.
- Sharing Hope– Encourages communicating a “sense of possibility” to others.
- Sharing Humor– Contributes to feelings of togetherness, closeness, and friendliness.
- Sharing Feelings – The premise that nurses can help clients express emotions by making observations, acknowledging feelings, encouraging communication, giving permission to express “negative” feelings, and modeling healthy anger.
- Using Touch– Believed to be the most potent form of communication.
- Silence– Time for the nurse and client to observe one another, sort out feelings, think of how to say things, and consider what has been verbally communicated.
- Providing Information– Giving relevant information to help make important to make decisions, experience less anxiety, and feel safe and secure.
- Clarifying– To check whether understanding is accurate or to better understand, the nurse restates an unclear or ambiguous message to clarify the sender’s meaning.
- Focusing– Taking notice of a single idea expressed or even a single word.
- Paraphrasing– Restating another’s message more briefly using one’s own words. It consists of repeating in fewer and fresher words the essential ideas of the client.
- Asking Relevant Questions– Seeking information needed for decision making. Asking only one question at a time and fully exploring one topic before moving to another area.
- Summarizing– Pulls together information for documentation. Gives a client a sense of being understood. It is a concise review of key aspects of an interaction. Summarizing brings a sense of closure.
- Self-Disclosure– Subjectively true personal experiences about the self, are intentionally revealed to another person for the purpose of emphasizing both the similarities and the differences of experiences.
- Confrontation– Helping the client become more aware of inconsistencies in his or her feelings, attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors.
While you may not be able to use these everyday over email, I think you’ll find, once you have these in your toolkit, they do come in handy whenever you have irritable stakeholders or have to deliver bad news. I find that some of these that can be used often are:
- Active Listening – Being attentive to what the client is saying, verbally and non-verbally. Sit facing the client, open posture, lean toward the client, make eye contact, and relax.
- Sharing Empathy – The ability to understand and accept another person’s reality, to accurately perceive feelings, and to communicate understanding.
- Sharing Hope – Communicating a “sense of possibility” to others. Encouragement when appropriate and positive feedback.
- Providing Information – Relevant information is important to make decisions, experience less anxiety, and feel safe and secure.
- Asking Relevant Questions – To seek information needed for decision making. Asking only one question at a time and fully exploring one topic before moving to another area. Open-ended questions enable conversation and introduce pertinent information about a topic.
- Summarizing – It is a concise review of the key aspects of the interaction. Providing a summary gives the other parties involved the opportunity to review information and gives a client a sense you understand while also bringing a sense of closure.
Now that we have a list of these techniques, let’s talk about how to use them to your advantage. I find myself using these communication techniques when dealing with an unhappy customer support escalation. I initially try to ask relevant questions to fully understand their situation and where they are coming from. It is important at this juncture to convey confidence in your ability to resolve the situation while also sharing empathy for the situation.
Once I determine the proper course of action to resolve the customer’s issue, I like to provide information to be fully transparent on my next steps to resolve their issue. This is also the moment where you can share hope by letting them know that their issue is resolvable by executing the process you provide. Finally, when I follow up with the customer after I have executed the action on my end and the issue is resolved, I like to summarize the issue and verify that resolution has indeed been met.
Working in customer support, you learn very quickly what customers and stakeholders do and do not want to hear. Leveraging the therapeutic communication techniques while avoiding the non-therapeutic communications listed below, can make your ability to escalate resolution as painless as possible.
Non-Therapeutic Communication Techniques
“Blocks” to communication of feelings and ideas
- Asking personal questions
- Giving personal opinions
- Changing the subject
- Automatic responses
- False Reassurance
- Asking for Explanations (why questions)
- Approval or Disapproval
- Defensive Responses
- Passive or Aggressive Responses
Therapeutic communication techniques are utilized in the medical field when communicating some of the most life-changing information to patients. In business, they are often used for the same situations and to resolve conflicts or misunderstandings. When dealing with sensitive issues, it is important to envision how you would like the information communicated to you if you were in the other person’s position. If you act in this manner while utilizing the therapeutic communication techniques and avoiding the non-therapeutic communication techniques, you should be able to successfully and effectively communicate the situation with the stakeholder.