One of the powerful conversational techniques is the Socratic dialogue, a method which boils down to making your conversational partner aware of what precisely they are saying, what exactly they are thinking and what they are actually doing. The major difference between ordinary conversation is that this awareness is reached via questioning and literal reflection instead of directly telling them. As was mentioned in a previous post, the Socratic dialogue is based on reflecting meaning, in other words, it’s not about the facts nor the emotions those facts elicit, but what this all means (and what the impact is) for the other.
Shame and guilt are two emotions people experience, and should therefore also be functional emotions. That we generally experience them as something negative may be clear. In simple terms, shame has a limiting effect: It prevents us from ‘going over the top’, and in that sense it has a protective intention. As with all emotions, shame only becomes problematic when it is overly limiting or not present at all. This could be due to all kinds of factors: Poor or misplaced emotion regulation or inappropriate appraisals or expectations, to name but two. To put it differently, shame as a normal reaction isn’t problematic and is functional, just as the normal experience of fear prevents us from doing potentially dangerous things. In a similar way, guilt is adaptive too, as it stimulates us to restore matters when we have done something inappropriate.
In this article we look at how shame and guilt influence our experience and behaviour. We start by making a distinction between them, as the two emotions are easily lumped onto the same pile. After that we will review specifically how people deal with shame.
In a previous article we dealt with the basics of how you create a good collaborative relationship. To summarise: When another feels themselves respected and heard, then a relationship is created in which it is possible to collaborate. For this an open, inquisitive attitude is necessary, and the three Rogerian requirements of congruence, empathy and unconditional positive regard. In this article we focus on the situation when you need to deal with a client. In other words, it’s not about a social conversation in which the balance between give and take is implicit: You are now the one who needs to do the most in terms of listening, as it is the other’s situation which is relevant, not yours.
The importance of an open attitude was the subject of a previous article. An open attitude is largely your own responsibility. Yet it takes two to tango: You and the other are interdependent; an open attitude is but one side of the coin. If the other doesn’t tell you anything, you have nothing to listen to! In other words, listening is a collaboration and requires some form of interaction in what is called the collaborative relationship. In this relationship the other will need to be stimulated to be vulnerable, unless it is your aim only to talk about the weather! So next to your personal characteristics (including an unknowing and curious attitude), you will need to activate and stimulate interaction with the other. In this article I introduce the basics of this collaborative relationship and your role in its creation, in another article I will delve a little deeper into the subject. For now, let’s begin with the ideas of unconditional positive regard, congruence and empathy and how those three may be used to build this relationship.
Conversations run smoother when you have an open attitude towards your conversational partner and actively create a good working relationship. The collaboration is most effective when the other feels safe and listened to. This all sounds rather obvious, and is rather clichéd too. That’s why in this article we consider how to actually do this.
Image: © 2016 P.L. Houtekamer
Try the following: Write down one of your good qualities and call that A. This can be any sort of quality, such as proactive, friendly or empathic. Now think about how another person would experience your behaviour if you were to exaggerate this good quality, and call this B. If you exaggerate ‘proactive’, for example, that could be experienced as meddling or pushy. There isn’t one correct answer; think about how you would experience an exaggerated behaviour in another. Now, think about what could be an opposite of B, but in a positive sense. For meddling that could be being patient, for example. This positive opposite, you call C. The last step is to exaggerate C: Someone who is too patient never gets going, or is passive, for example. This is called D. Now for the million-dollar question: Do people who demonstrate the behaviour D tend to irritate you?
Ljubljana, Slovenia. Photograph © 2016 M.F. van Alphen
One of the disadvantages of working in any professional capacity is that it is difficult to switch off your professional self when you leave your work environment. As a couple’s counsellor, you notice all the things in your own relationship that ‘don’t follow the rules’. When you work pedagogically, it becomes difficult not to correct your partner when he interacts differently with the children than the ideal described in your study books. The tendency to want to fix everything then needs to be suppressed, as also your need to convert. Couple’s counsellors, for example, aren’t immune to relationship issues, and often these issues arise because they cannot distance themselves from their profession in their own relationships. The lesson in this is that not every context requires intervention. Before you decide to intervene, you first need to ask yourself if it is relevant. At home it usually isn’t relevant, as you are the other’s partner, not the other’s therapist!
A skill is more than just knowledge; it is knowledge applied effectively using specific behaviour. Behaviour can be learnt, and is perfected by practice. We who work with people love talking, and can easily be seduced into long discussions about strategies and techniques – while talking about, we aren’t fully learning. It is only when we experience how a technique works that it becomes part of our toolkit. An ideal way to practice is via role-plays. In this short article I discuss how to make these role-plays more effective.
Do bad questions exist? Definitely, depending on the context in which they are posed. The following are generally to be avoided: