I’ll admit, I used to think that things like “empathy” and “unconditional positive regard” were new-agey hippie bullshit. Until I started actually listening to the people I was coaching. I was shocked at how effective just listening is for facilitating behavior change.
Reflective listening statements have had a huge impact on the people I’ve worked with. I’ll go as far as to say that they’ve been more important than:
- Counting calories
- Counting macros
- Meal plans
- How many sets and reps they do
- What exercises they do
- Taking “progress” pictures
- 30 day challenges and other contests
- My shitty blog posts
- Going beast mode
And the reason is, as I’ve realized, change is hard. We’re literally helping them learn A New Way of Being. A new identity. And that is unsettling.
Becoming a better version of yourself requires you to admit that a part of you fucked up. That it’s no longer serving your best interest.
To get people to that point, a point where they briefly stop defending the status quo and are free to focus on getting better… well, I’ve found that empathy is potent drug.
“The curious paradox is that when I accept myself just as I am, then I can change.” — Carl Rogers
Most of your clients decided to sign up for your services after months or even years of playing a personal mental battle. A battle in which one part of their psyche pressured them to “Just do it!”, and the other part questioned, “Should you do this? Can you do this?”
So it’s fair to say that they forced themselves to sign up, to stop feeling pressured. Before they could prepare themselves for the effort that real change requires.
And now they find themselves in Commitment Prison. A tricky place where even a minor setback could make them regret their haste. And make you a convenient target to assign the blame… so they can avoid the unpleasant thought that they weren’t ready to change in the first place.
So how can we help clients who aren’t ready to change? Clients who are trapped in Commitment Prison? I’ve found that communicating with clients with empathy gets them moving forward again. A simple powerful technique to do that? Making reflective listening statements.
A reflective listening statement is a statement you make back to a client that makes a reasonable guess about what they meant. Listen to their words, search for the meaning behind the words, and present them back to the client.
The key is to present a statement rather than a question, as statements reduce defensiveness in clients. They allow clients to hear again the thoughts and feelings they are expressing, perhaps in different words, and ponder them.
Reflective listening statements are so damn empowering because they help the client feel heard. Using them makes it clear to the client that you have no agenda other than to understand them. And that you trust them to reach the right conclusions for them.