Interacting with clients
Everyone involved in communication comes to the process from a different standpoint. The way people understand words and interpret them is decided by their origins and their life experience. There are some basic points to remember when communicating with clients, including:
- Know in advance what you want to communicate to your client before you say it.
- Following careful consideration of the individual needs of the client, decide on an appropriate time and place. (For example, the client will most likely not want you to talk in front of others or they may be in a hurry at the time you want to meet with them.)
- Decide on the best approach for getting your message across. Consider the words you will use, the tone of voice and non-verbal issues such as facial expression.
- Do not assume the client has understood your meaning. Ask questions to seek clarification and look for feedback.
- Keep the message simple – don’t complicate your message unnecessarily.
- Speak clearly, and if necessary use a diagram or pictures to help illustrate what you are saying.
- Make eye contact – but note that this is not appropriate in some cultures.
- Monitor the client’s responses.
- Use appropriate language to suit the client.
- Be specific, clear and precise. Don’t over-elaborate.
- Summarise your message periodically, checking that the client has understood. This also gives your receiver the opportunity to ask questions and/or clarify anything that is unclear.
Many of us think that listening comes naturally, however this is not the case. The misconception arises because we tend to confuse the process of listening with the process of hearing. Hearing is certainly a natural process. However, ‘listening’ is a skill that requires energy and effort.
Too often we fail to hear the real message or capture the essence of what the other person is saying. The following are some tips for effective listening.
Listening for meaning
Listen with the intention of understanding what the client is really saying and feeling. This means tuning into the other person’s internal viewpoint and not assuming we know how they feel or what they need. Although most messages have an obvious meaning they can also contain an underlying meaning. Most messages function on at least two levels at the same time. Consider, when a client asks ‘Do you like my painting?’ on one level the meaning is clear and you answer ‘yes’ or ‘no’; but on another level the person may just be in need of support and positive feedback.
Respect the other person’s viewpoint
This involves respecting clients as separate human beings with rights to their own thoughts and feelings. This does not mean that we have to agree with everything they say – just that we respect what they say as their version of reality. Accepting others also means allowing them to grow and develop on their own terms.
Things to remember for effective listening include:
- Concentrate 100% on the client.
- People generally speak at 150 to 160 words a minute. However, we are capable of listening and/or thinking at up to 600 words a minute. Clearly there is a lot of extra brainpower available, which is free to wander from the client. To focus that extra power we need to concentrate hard when attempting to receive a message effectively.
- Clear away any ‘baggage’ – this means avoiding letting any past experiences or ideas influence how you receive what the client is saying.
- Use active listening – listening is much different from hearing, and it does take concentrated effort to listen actively to instructions, explanations, and even reprimands.
- Check that you are picking up the message correctly – don’t assume you have done so. Ask questions, repeat parts of the message back, using statements that begin, ‘so what you’re saying is…’ or similar. This will give both you and your client an opportunity to clear up any misunderstandings as you go.
- Give feedback at the end of the message – you can only really be sure you have heard what the client has said accurately if you do this. This can be done in a number of ways, including paraphrasing the message, or repeating it back as you understood it.
Over the coming week, take some time to reflect upon and document five conversations (one each day) with other people in your life, e.g. clients, fellow workers, family members, friends, retail staff, strangers, etc. If possible, include interactions with people from other cultures and walks of life. The aim of this activity is to begin to raise your awareness of how you interact with others, and how you can begin to improve your effective listening skills, which are one of the basic building blocks of being able to communicate effectively with others.
Print five copies of the Activity 2.1 Effective listening provided and for each day, record the communication skills that you used in an interaction with another person. The activity is in word document format.