Motivational Interviewing: Establishing A Tone Of Trust

One thing I’m extremely thankful for is that I’ve never lost the respect for everyone I meet and that each person who comes to me for help is unique. Every person has their own unique back story, and even if I were to think it sounds remarkably like others I’ve heard, I know I’ve never heard this back story from the person telling it to me now. Remembering to listen with full attention to the person before me is critical if I’m going to create a trusting climate where they feel safe enough to open up and tell me the important things that lay deeper than the surface stuff.

A poor Employment Counsellor – and yes poor examples exist in my field just as there are in any group of people – will neglect to fully listen. One of the most attractive traps one can fall into is to hear only enough from the person you’re helping to figuratively lump them in with others with similar stories. When doing this, your active listening stops, and your mind starts perusing your ready-made solutions that worked in the past, and you pull out solution number 4 and present it as the panacea to solve all this person’s troubles. “I have the perfect answer for you! Just follow the steps of my plan here and you’ll reach the end goal. I’m so happy to have helped!”

That’s just not going to work. What’s more, the person before you is intelligent enough to know you’ve tuned them out and you’re not really engaged with their unique situation. In short, they feel you don’t really understand because you didn’t hear them out; and they’re right.

A situation like this was shared with me just yesterday when a colleague consulted with me about someone she was working with. The fellow has a degree in Economics and some Employment Counsellor in another agency advised him to go after one of the job postings she had for a Restaurant Server. He felt shut down, unheard, misread and told her as much; she branded him a problem client.

Listening sounds like one of the easiest things to do; our ears pick up sounds without us having to turn hearing on and off, so we assume what we hear is 100% of what the person is saying when in fact we don’t. There are techniques like paraphrasing and saying things like, “Tell me more about that” which are designed to both acknowledge for the person that they were heard, and communicate a genuine want to hear more about something. Eye contact is critical too. I mean, how do you feel yourself when someone you’re speaking to breaks that eye contact and looks to your right or left as if something more interesting just happened behind you. You feel that connection is broken.

Have you ever considered your eye contact is one of the strongest ways to forge a bond? All those poets and authors who talked about seeing someone’s soul through their eyes; they were on to something there and they understood. If you want to make a subtle change that requires little effort but at the same time make a huge impact on those you counsel, work on maintaining eye contact. Don’t go for the beady-eyed, burn-through-your-skull kind of freakish look; that only scares others into thinking you’re getting kind of scary.

Direct eye contact that communicates enthusiasm for what this person has to share is what you’re after. From time to time in the conversation you’ll want to speak in a quiet voice that communicates concern and strong interest, such as when they relate something unpleasant. When they share something lighter or amusing, it’s okay to reflect warmth, smile, laugh along with them and that’s the moment to take that look away. Humour is essential to break tension, offer a break between heavy topics, and release some tension.

Of course what all this is really doing is continuing to build a trusting climate between you and this person before you. It is a huge mistake I think to start your meeting off with a statement that says, “We’ve only got 60 minutes to do your résumé so let’s dive right in – where did you work last and why aren’t you there now?” This kind of opening does set the tone that this is a business meeting with a clear goal, but it also communicates your time is more valuable than they are. All you’re going to get now is dates, past jobs and education. All the nuances of why they moved, what they found pleasing, what they want to avoid, where they feel most comfortable or most vulnerable; you’ve shut that down with your opening salvo.

The unfortunate message they receive is that whatever you’re doing in 60 minutes trumps your time with them now. Whether it’s your lunch or morning break, another client squeezed in to your schedule etc. they don’t really care, but they only have time now to do a token resume. The ironic thing? 60 minutes might be the same time you’d need to do a superior job that meets their needs and gets the document finished had you started by thanking them for the opportunity of meeting them and inviting them to share openly and honestly throughout your meeting. Some open-ended questions might set the tone of trust.

Challenge yourself; perhaps today – listen like you’ve never heard the story you’re hearing now; because you haven’t.


Invested Trust. What Is It And Why Should You Care?

I’d like you to pause for a moment and think about the people you rely on in your personal life; whether it’s a home renovation contractor, someone you consult at the local garden centre for advice or the doctor you consult for the aches and ailments that flare up periodically. Think specifically about the relationship you have with these people and whether it’s as positive as you’d like. If you aren’t satisfied with how you’re treated, you’ll likely look elsewhere until you find someone you trust.

Now presumably, that renovation contractor and medical doctor have spent a considerable amount of time learning their trade. They invested time and money, gaining experience with every job and with every interaction built a reputation. Many professionals don’t even advertise aggressively; relying more and more as they grow their business on word-of-mouth referrals. The good ones always seem in demand. Go to a garden centre on a semi-regular basis and you’ll soon spot the difference between the seasoned expert with reliable advice and the summer student. Got a problem? You go to the professional to draw on their experience and you extend trust in their knowledge by doing so.

So trust is a good thing that attracts us to certain people. The more we trust in advice, experience and service someone has to offer, the more we are likely to continue to deal with that person.

However, it’s just as true that there are a lot of qualified service providers who, while we admit they the experience and education to do the work they do, we nonetheless look elsewhere for help when we need it. We might feel that someone isn’t taking our needs seriously enough; they seem too busy or despite all their experience, we just don’t feel that they understand our situation. What’s really happening is that we don’t feel they are invested in our problem. Be it the body language, the apparent lack of interest, the big sigh or look beyond our shoulder to some far off space, we just don’t feel this person before us is really invested in our immediate needs.

Invested trust manifests itself when we feel a professional is genuinely focused on our problem at hand; that they understand us sufficiently so trusting them to advise us and/or do work for us is something we do with confidence. Think about a retail experience if you’d like. You know when the salesperson is invested in your needs and when they aren’t.

Now the same is true when others interact with us. No matter the line of work you are in, if your job brings you into contact with people, those same people are sizing us up all the time, evaluating whether we’re invested in their needs and whether they can trust us to do the work we do.

Unfortunately for some, it’s not as easy as switching the professional you work with as it is say, seeking advice from someone else in a garden centre. In some communities finding a new doctor is almost impossible, or having being assigned a Caseworker when applying for government help, you’re stuck with who you get. It’s not as easy to just shop around and give your business to someone else.

If I’m correct in my beliefs, I’m going to assume you’d like to give your personal business to people who are invested in your needs and who come with the experience and expertise which makes trusting in the quality of work they’ll do easier. The bigger the project or the greater your needs, the more selective you are when it comes to choosing your provider.

So it shouldn’t come as a surprise then that following this same logic, you’d want someone you could trust and someone who is invested in genuinely helping you when you’re trying to find career direction, employment, housing or childcare. All of these are pretty big things that mean a lot to the people searching for help. The question of who to trust with our problem or challenge is huge.

If you want to succeed as a provider of service, invest yourself in the people you offer services for; understand their needs from their perspective and lay the foundation of trust. Keep the promises you make and deliver what you said you would do. Whether you offer your services for free or you charge makes no difference; work with integrity as if this single person was the only person you have as a client at the moment.

Does your level of investment in the people you provide services for lead them to extend their trust in you to do as they expect? Ask yourself what you might do to increase that level of invested trust. You see, you could have all the necessary credentials on paper that make you sound like the right person for the job – maybe even more than others who do what you do. What you might find frustrating though is wonder why you aren’t as busy as you’d like. Why is it that people are taking their business elsewhere?

While there could be other reasons, one thing you can’t afford is to lose is the trust of the people who receive your services. Invest yourself and when they feel you really understand and care about their needs, their trust will follow.

She Might Be Someone You Know

There’s a lot to unpack, note and commend in her story.

Here’s the quick summary, name withheld. Woman leaves Lebanon with her husband, leaving behind 5 siblings along with her mom and dad; a close and loving family. Arriving in Canada, she is pregnant and speaks two languages, neither one of which is English. She knows no one beyond her husband in this new land, and soon finds that things are changing.

Here in Canada, she not only knows no one, she’s not ‘allowed’ to meet new people; and whereas in Lebanon she held a job as a Childcare provider complete with a College Diploma, here it’s pointless because she’s entirely supported by her husband. After the child turns two, he walks out, leaving her with no income, no friends, no job, no idea of where she stands financially, and no prospects.

She is well aware of other women who like her ended up being divorced here in Canada and in each case they had returned to their families in Lebanon. Her choice however has been to stay in Canada to give her son – now 13 years-old with a better future; putting his future ahead of her own wish to be reunited with her family.

So that’s it in a nutshell. What I learned beyond this bare-bones story is that in the 11 years since the husband walked out, she took the initiative to enrol in English as a Second Language classes, and now has full command of a third language. She’s also visited and continuously makes use of a Welcome Centre to learn about programs and services to improve her situation. Her son is still completely in the dark about their status as Social Assistance recipients. She doesn’t want to burden him with that knowledge and have him feel shame and embarrassment. When I heard her tell me this I wanted to tell her that she should trust his judgement and he might just surprise her with his understanding and respect for her in spite of being  on social assistance, but I kept silent as that’s not call to say so.

I then asked her a question which brought her to a full stop and tears to her eyes – although it was not my intention to do so. I asked, “So what do you do that’s just for you, not your son – just you?” Not surprisingly she said, “Nothing.” Now why you might wonder is this not a surprise to me? Well, it’s been my experience that many women who have been isolated by their partners are entirely devoted to their children; their children being everything that they live for. There is often nothing they do for themselves because any extra income goes to extra-curricular activities that the children are involved with. Sure enough, soccer and buying the things that teenage boys want and/or need to be socially ‘in’ consumes these things. Reading for pleasure isn’t something she does but she reads a lot of legal papers, government memo’s, social assistance letters etc. – and all of these she hides from the eyes of her son lest he pause to wonder if they are on welfare.

For a second time in our conversation I brought her to tears. You’d think I was going out of my way to do so! Such was not the case, but it happened. After hearing her story I said how much I admired what she’d accomplished on her own, getting established independent of her ex-husband, raising her child, committing to living in a country when all her family was back in Lebanon, learning about various services and what brought us together, her decision to attend an interview preparation workshop. Of course what I said that really got the tears flowing was that I wasn’t just proud of what she’d accomplished but that I was proud of her.

So why the tears? Years and years of being put down and told she’d never amount to anything; that she wasn’t important and no one would ever care whether she’d live or die hammered home low self-esteem. This you see is why I believe she doesn’t do anything just for herself – something that people with a healthy self-image regularly do. If you’ve been told you’re nothing and you’ve come to believe you’re nothing, then you do nothing that’s just for you; you don’t deserve it. Nonsense of course, but it takes a long, long time for some people to alter that belief system.

Apparently I am the first person in all the time she’s been in Canada who has said good things about her. That I felt, extremely humbling and even more a sad state of affairs. Mid-forties, in good shape, excellent attention to her appearance, a beautiful smile and equally good manners. A dedicated parent putting her child’s needs and happiness above her own.

Here’s another thing. Does she lay her burden on her parents back home in Lebanon with crying and how difficult life has been and continues to be? No. In fact, she’s no one to share with, no intimate friend to vent or confide in; all this bottled in and heaven only knows what else.

So the point? She’s not the only one. Be kind, be considerate, be above all compassionate and non-judgemental. You can bet that this woman’s story is playing out everywhere not just one isolated person I came into contact with.

“Depressed? Get In The Mood Will Ya?”

Easier said then done isn’t it? Do they really think it’s as easy as just deciding to change your mood and, “Shazam!” everything is changed? It doesn’t work this way; you know it and honestly they know it too. Oh perhaps you can make a fleeting and momentary change to whatever it is other people expect you to become, but really that change is superficial and short-lived.

Now we could be talking about all kinds of different situations here; anything from feeling depressed around Christmas time, feeling out of sorts on a double date or maybe even having little enthusiasm for looking seriously for work.

For many people who deal with anxiety and depression – or those dealing with some kind of post-traumatic stress disorder, they are already aware they don’t quite fit in with those around them. This knowledge only seems to make things worse too because not only are they feeling the way they do to start with, they feel guilty if they are “ruining it for others” or ” being a downer”.  What they wouldn’t give to just seamlessly slide into the fun and be invisible rather than sticking out because of their singularity of mood. Yes but it isn’t that easy.

And the job interview? Well you can imagine your own feelings heading into a job interview can’t you? The pressure to perform; to come across as confident, positive, highly skilled and on top of that have the personality that’s going to be sought after by the best of employers. Well, add to this some level of additional anxiety, dread, fear and depression. Imagine how much psychological effort it’s going to take for anyone suffering in this way to perform well enough that the interviewer – a person specifically trained to read people – is going to pick you for the job.

The thing about mental illness, anxiety, depression,  etc. is that it’s not immediately obvious to the naked eye that there is something going on. I mean we see a broken arm, a wheelchair or a severe limp and we instinctively see there is an issue. Doors get opened, people say, “let me help you with that”, and folks ask with the best of intentions about your injury, how it happened etc.

A mental health issue however is almost invisible on the outside. Many people struggling with their mental health put on a brave face to those they see around them. They smile at the shopkeeper, put their lipstick on when heading out the door, adjust the tie properly and keep good hours at work. They are doing the best they can to give the appearance that they are ‘normal’; nothing is wrong – and nothing could be further than the truth. “Maybe if I just ride things out these feelings will go away and I don’t want to show any kind of weakness at work. I need my job.”

Now if you don’t have anxiety or depression it can be hard to truly be empathetic; to feel what it’s like for someone in that position. We can be sympathetic of course but truly empathetic? It’s hard for some of us to find experiences in our own lives that are similar enough to what this person is experiencing themselves so we can understand what it is like to be them. Saying, “Gee I know how you feel” or “I get it” might be well-intended but you may not know how they feel and quite honestly don’t get it.

Most of us are understanding too; well up to a point. Yes there does come a point for many if we’re honest, when despite all the empathy and understanding there is work to be done and picking up the work undone that someone else is responsible for starts to wear thin. Sometimes it’s grumbling around the office cooler, that penetrating look of puzzlement you spy on the face of a co-worker across the shop floor, or the confrontational but direct, “Hey, we’re all getting paid to do a job so get your act together!”

Well if it was easy to fix whatever someone is experiencing, the people themselves would do so don’t you think? And gladly!

Look I’m not expert in the field of mental health but I’ve spoken with numerous people who suffer from anxiety and depression. It helps them in their words to acknowledge what they are experiencing without laying on pity and repeatedly inquiring as to how they are doing. While sometimes you might think you’re helping by excusing them from some task at work or giving them extra things to do to keep them busy; the best thing you can do is actually ask them what they would find helpful. After all, the person is probably the expert when it comes to what they themselves would find helpful and therefore appreciate.

As I wrap up my piece, I’m wondering if this is where you yourself would like to jump in and comment on your own experience? Would you be willing to share what it’s been like for you going through your own anxiety and / or depression? Perhaps you work with someone like this and how does it affect your own job on a daily basis? What kind of accommodations have  you found work for both of you?

Someone might be reading this (you perhaps?) who could really benefit from your comments, your thoughts, your coping mechanisms and some encouragement.

The Wisdom In Recognizing Our Differences

I came to realize quite a long time ago now that each and every day there are a multitude of things to learn if you are in the moment and recognize the learning opportunities. So it stands to reason that if you spend hours each day in the process of work, it is there you will find those opportunities to gain knowledge all around you. All it takes really is looking for them, being open to the information available, and processing that data.

Happily we’re not all built the same, and therefore it stands to reason we don’t all find the same meaning in these experiences. What one person recognizes and finds interesting, someone else will barely even notice or may dismiss entirely as anything worth paying attention to. There are some people however, who wonder why other people don’t react like they themselves do to what could be a shared experience.

So for example, tell a joke and you’ll find that some may think it hilarious while others might be offended or alternatively just not think it’s funny. Of these three groups of people with their three different reactions, there could be among them in all three groups, people who can’t understand why those in the other two groups don’t feel just like them.

In some situations, people will attempt to present their opinion, change other people’s points of views, get them to see things the same way they do. And make no mistake, there are times when this is necessary and the right thing to do. Organizations will often put out mission statements and principles of behaviour that they expect all employees working in a company to outwardly adhere to and hopefully come to believe at their core. If you hold a different view, you may find yourself being called in to some meeting and having a chat about either conforming or moving on.

But there are other times when it isn’t necessary to persuade or coerce someone else to share your point of view. You might feel and then act on a desire to at least share your opinion or point of view while hearing an alternative view, but then leave it at that. Both people then walk away having a better understanding of what the other is thinking, but each staying true to their own interpretation of events. Can you see how in this later scenario, each benefits because their own views haven’t been challenged, but they both have additional information upon which to consider an alternative point of view.

You may be initially puzzled when you hear someone voice an opinion which is opposition to your own. Could be you previously thought to yourself, “Surely everybody would feel the way I feel on this issue”; only to find out they don’t. Take a politician running for office who reveals her/himself unintentionally by putting down part of the electorate. While you might gasp and brand the person as prejudiced or self-righteous, the person you are speaking with might see the person as being genuine and wish more people in power would actually speak their mind.

The thing is that when we are in situations where others hold views that are different from our own, it is usually a good idea to avoid doing anything else in the beginning other than listening. Listening first and foremost gives us the chance to fully hear correctly what the person is saying and then only after this is done can we really respond intelligently to their comments. To respond any earlier may end up having us make assumptions about what the person was about to say. These leaps we make are sometimes correct but more often not.

The great thing about people who have ideas and opinions which vary from our own is that we can learn. In many situations, they’ve had very different life experience to date than we ourselves, and all of their past experiences have shaped how they now interpret whatever is being discussed. By listening to them in full, it’s possible that the view they hold is based on the sum of those experiences. To then tell them their opinion is wrong would be akin to telling them that their past experiences have led them to make an erroneously conclusion now, or to somehow dismiss as invalid what they’ve previously experienced. And in many situations, there is no right or wrong, it’s more how one interprets things.

Ever been in a discussion with someone and one of you says, “Oh I hadn’t thought of things that way”? Well this could be because the person saying this hasn’t had the other past experiences, and with this new perspective, is open to now seeing things from that point of view. This is a moment of learning.

It is often our differences that make us ultimately more knowledgeable, wiser, better. When we only surround ourselves with others who share our own points of view, there’s a danger in narrow thinking, limited solutions to problems and missed opportunities. Surround ourselves with people who are different or think differently and there’s an ebb and flow of ideas and opinions both ways that can better educate us all.

Recognize and validate those you meet and interact with and you may find yourself growing, possibly changing your previous points of view, or educating others to your own way of thinking on some topics.

Find A Shared Experience And Make A Connection

Ever had the experience where you’re explaining a concept that is well-known to you but as you talk you look out on a sea of blank faces nodding their heads up and down politely? They don’t really understand your message but don’t want to appear thick and they don’t have the assertiveness to ask you to explain it further? I’ve had that experience myself and want to share with you what’s going on so you can become more effective.

By way of illustration, one of the workshops that I regularly lead is called, ‘Resume Writing”, and to no surprise, it’s for people who want to leave with a strong resume that they can use to better compete for employment with. The message I want to communicate is that targeting your resume to a specific job that matches the employers stated needs stands a better chance of landing you an interview than a generic resume that is to be copied 20 times and fanned out to many employers.

I know therefore that taking the time to align my resume each and every time for a job – even a job with an identical title, is time well spent in the end, resulting in fewer applications. However, I could often see that some people had doubt on their faces, and here was the crux of their argument. They had words like, “hard-working, honest, dependable” and “reliable” on their resumes. To them, these were universal qualities that all employers wanted so why not leave them on every resume? My challenge then, was to find a way of explaining to them in a way they could comprehend, the benefit of what I was suggesting. The answer was really in finding a shared experience that proved my point.

So right in the middle of my visual presentation on the subject of targeting your resume, seemingly from out of nowhere, comes a picture of a thick slice of homemade apple pie. Yep, apple pie. And here’s what I say to those in that workshop. “Suppose mom wants to make an apple pie, so she sends you down to the store with the money to buy some apples. However, you come home with the most fabulous peaches anyone has ever seen. Although they are great peaches, mom wanted apples, and there’s no apple pie tonight”. And all of a sudden it clicks, and people say, “Oh I see, okay I get it”. And they do. They get it so much that now they look at their stated qualifications on their resume say, “Peaches”, to “hard-working, honest, dependable” and “reliable”. These are great qualities, but not the ones the employer stated on the posting that they are looking for.

The ‘Shared Experience tool’ is really all about searching for some past experience that you and another person both share, and by finding this in the past, you can both move forward with a new concept or understanding building off that experience. In the case of a resume, the apples wanted are the stated qualifications in the posting, and the apples delivered are the qualifications you choose to include on your resume. It’ all about matching up.

Now this isn’t only about resume building. That’s only one example of where this concept might be applicable. Finding a shared past experience may also help someone grasp any new concept. Unfortunately I’ve seen situations in the past where someone asked for clarification only to have the other person repeat exactly what they just said, only louder. The problem isn’t that the person is deaf who is trying to understand, the problem is that the person initiating the message hasn’t found a way to communicate it in a meaningful way to the receiver. So the person receiving the message does their best to grasp what they are being told, but it may not be what was intended and the result is miscommunication.

If you want to communicate effectively, you have to do more than present information in a way you alone understand it. It becomes critical to try a variety of angles, use analogies that are meaningful and shared by your audience. Sometimes you’ll hit it spot on, and other times you’ll miss. When you miss, best to pause and together find a shared past experience that you can take as your starting point and building on that, move to an understanding of the current understanding to achieve a desired result.

In my own case, yesterday I blogged about what you might take from a professional athlete in helping you with your own job search. If you can identify with the preparation that athletes take to do their jobs well, this shared understanding can help you relate to your own job search efforts. If you don’t have a shared understanding with athletes, the analogy doesn’t work for you, and another past experience would be a better fit. The challenge is therefore not with the person who is receiving the message but with me the person initiating a thought and passing on advice. And it’s my job therefore to use a broad number of experiences that connect with readers.

Consider too that in a job interview, the goal of the interviewee is to communicate in a meaningful way to the interviewer, how their past experience is relevant to the job at hand. Best to take along some apples to that interview.

Something to think about as you move forward and interact with others today and everyday.