September 12, 2011

Solution-focused language matching

Language matching
Paul Watzlawick suggested that helping clients working with the concepts of the client is much more powerful than using professional jargon (in this book). When you, as a professional helper, replace a word of the client by a professional term this usually works contrarily because the client may feel corrected or misunderstood. In general, solution-focused practitioners preserve the key words of their clients, without re-interpreting or changing them. This process makes it easy for clients to feel taken seriously and understood which facilitates cooperation. Solution-focused practitioners use clients’ words both in summaries and in questions.

Summarizing in clients' words
One way solution-focused professionals use language matching is by summarizing in clients' words. Peter De Jong and Insoo Kim Berg mentioned (in this book) six important functions of solution-focused summaries:
  1. The summary reassures the client that the solution-focused practitioner was listening carefully, 
  2. The summary reassures the solution-focused practitioner that he has heard the client accurately, 
  3. By using the client's words in the summary the solution-focused practitioner shows respect for the client's frame of reference, 
  4. The summary (if done descriptively and in a spirit of openness) has the effect of inviting the client to say more (correct, revise or add), 
  5. The summary has the effect of putting the client in control of how to describe their experiences, and 
  6. The summary assists the solution-focused practitioner in formulating the next question based on what the client has just revealed. 
Using clients' words in questions
Solution-focused practitioners use clients’ words not only in summaries but also in brief responses to what clients say and in questions. Here is a brief example (from this book):

School counselor:
What is your goal in coming here, Marie?
I would like to be doing my homework. But I just cannot seem to get it done.
School counselor:
So are there times when you get some of the homework done now?
Yes, but usually it is when I am interested in the work, or I am in a good mood.
School counselor:
How do you get yourself to be interested? I am sure there are other things you could be interested in, at that time.
Well, I don’t know. I just get into it, and then it is okay.
School counselor:
How do you decide to get into it?

How client language is preserved
Another way language matching may be described is 'preserving the words of the client'. Peter De Jong and Janet Bavelas have explained (here) client language is and isn't preserved. They say, in comparison with other approaches, solution-focused practitioners tend to:
  1. Preserve more of clients’ exact language 
  2. Add less interpretative language 
  3. Preserve more positive client language 
  4. Omit more negative client language 
Reframing can be viewed as a deliberate exception to the principle of using clients’ words. Insoo Kim Berg explained reframing like this: “Reframing is simply an alternate -usually a positive- interpretation of troublesome behavior that gives a positive meaning to the client's interaction with those in her environment. It suggests a new and different way of behaving, freeing the client to alter behavior and making it possible to bring about changes while ‘saving face’." (source). Some examples of reframing are:

Troublesome behavior
Reframed version
Laid back, relaxed, taking it easy
Assertive, action oriented
Action-oriented, has high standards
Allows room for others
Strong, unaware of his own strength
Concerned, trying to bring out the best in someone
Deep thinker, thoughtful

Verbal mimicry leads to prosocial behavior
In social psychology several experiments have been done which illustrate the powerful effects of verbal mimicry. Van Baaren, Holland, Steenaert, and Van Knippenberg (2003) have done a few experiments with waitresses. 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.

This sheds an interesting light on the importance of using the words of the client in coaching and therapy. An important aspect of the advantage of using clients' words is that it helps clients to like the coach much more. It improves the relationship between the two. And this, as has been demonstrated before*, is an important factor of the effectiveness of coaching and therapy (see for instance Hubble, Duncan & Miller (2000).

Is language matching associated with client satisfaction in coaching?
A web-based survey (Visser, under review) was administered with 200 clients of coaches. From a list of 28 coach behaviors clients were asked to describe what their coach had done. They also were asked to say how satisfied they were with the process of the coaching and with the attainment of coaching goals. One of the items in the survey specifically referred to language matching: “The coach used the same words as I had used” This item correlated significantly with both client’s satisfaction with the coaching process (r=.34, p<.001) and clients’ satisfaction with goal attainment (r=.29, p<.001).

Some key points about language matching
  1. Solution-focused practitioners preserve the key words of their clients, without re-interpreting or changing them. This process makes it easy for clients to feel taken seriously and understood which facilitates cooperation. Solution-focused practitioners use clients' words both in summaries and in questions. 
  2. In comparison with other approaches, solution-focused practitioners tend to: 1) preserve more of client’s exact language, 2) add less interpretative language, 3) preserve more positive client language, 4) omit more negative client language. 
  3. reframing is a deliberate exception to the principle of using clients’ words. With reframing clients’ words are positively reinterpreted. 
  4. There is experimental evidence that verbal mimicry leads to pro-social behavior. 
  5. Language matching is associated with client satisfaction about coaching.

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