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November 18, 2007

Evidence of the advantage of using the words of the client (language matching)

In solution-focused coaching (or therapy), one of the things the coach does is summarizing what the client has said. While doing this, the coach uses the words of the client as much as possible. Often, the coach does not 'interpret' or change the words. Instead, he usually just uses the same language. The fact that the coach uses the same words as the client, makes it easy for the client to know that the coach has listened well, taken him seriously and that he has understood what the client has said. The principle of using the words of the client has consequences for the coach as well. Having to do that forces the coach to listen really well (otherwise you won't be able to use the clients' language. It forces you to concentrate really well.

Today, while reading a book by Ap Dijksterhuis (I mentioned him here before), I came across an experiment which shines a interesting light on the value of using the clients' language. Dutch researchers Rich van Baaren, Rob Holland, Bregje Steenaert and Ad van Knippenberg wrote the article 'Mimicry for money: Behavioral consequences of imitation'. Here is a summary of the article:
"Two experiments investigated the idea that mimicry leads to pro-social behavior. It was hypothesized that mimicking the verbal behavior of customers would increase the size of tips. In Experiment 1, a waitress either mimicked half her customers by literally repeating their order or did not mimic her customers. It was found that she received significantly larger tips when she mimicked her customers than when she did not. In Experiment 2, in addition to a mimicry- and non-mimicry condition, a baseline condition was included in which the average tip was assessed prior to the experiment. The results indicated that, compared to the baseline, mimicry leads to larger tips. These results demonstrate that mimicry can be advantageous for the imitator because it can make people more generous." (source)
This sheds an interesting light on the importance of using the words of the client. An important aspect of the advantage of using the clients' words is that it helps the client to like the coach much more. It improves the relationship between the two. And this, as has been shown before, is an important factor of the effectiveness of coaching and therapy.