June 20, 2008

Client perceived relationship quality - its impact and development

In this post I wrote about the advantages of using the language of the client. This skill is called language matching, by the way. Paolo Terni responded kindly to this post and invited me to elaborate on how the relationship between the solution-focused practitioner and the client is important to success and how it can be developed. Here are my thoughts.

Duncan & Miller (the Heroic Client, 2000) write some interesting things about this:
"The quality of the relationship is not solely a byproduct of success. The data suggest that the alliance quality itself is an active factor. Thus the relationship produces change and is not only a reflection of beneficial results. ... a positive client perception of the relationship is critical from the onset of therapy, or else the client may withdraw prematurely. Moreover, clients and therapist differ in their perceptions of the relationship. Comparisons of cients' and therapists' ratings of the relationship have consistently indicated low agreement. Therapists, then, cannot assume that their evaluation of the quality of the therapy climate corresponds to their clients' perceptions. The superior value of clients' ratings of the relationship in predicting outcome as compared to therapists' appraisal underscores the importance of attending to clients' perceptions."
Later on in their book (which I recommend by the way; here is a review), they present guidelines for clients for choosing and evaluating their therapist. Their first tip is: "If you don't like your therapist, find another one".

Here are some additional personal reflections on this. I do believe that the quality of the relationship as perceived by the client is helpful in therapy and in coaching (and, I think, the same thing goes for organizational consultancy, commerce, etc). The next question is: how do you develop this client perceived quality? There seems to be a paradox at work here. Intuitively, we may think that saying very kind and complimentary things and flatter the client may do it. But that may be wrong. Rather, the client perceiving the relationship as good and liking you, may be the result of the client noticing your full attention, taking him or her seriously, noticing you accepting his or her perception, and accepting his or her language and goals. So the key to this important factor may be things like paying close attention, 'not-knowing', language matching etc.

This may be compared to another paradox which Peter DeJong and Insoo Kim Berg write about too (in their wonderful book Interviewing for Solutions). They agree that nonverbal behavior is important. It has to fit with the rest of the behavior and the context. But it is important not to isolate attention to non-verbal behavior. Most people emphasize non-verbal behavior a lot. But if you focus too much on non-verbal behavior it can interfere with the attention you have to have for your client. Mostly if you focus your attention well on your client, your non-verbal behavior will automatically fit."

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