Non verbal communication

Whilst I have not confined myself strictly to the learning of early years in the profession, the themes I have outlined did emerge at that time. I should say a bit more about one other feature of this early period of discovery. I have alluded to it already in writing about silence as communication. Although the first steps in the profession involve worries about things like what one should say to a client, what questions to ask, how to deal with clients’ questions and challenges, I was at the same time having to think about non verbal communication.

This could easily acquire a kind of mystique or sense of superiority about it and I did find that people’s guard would go up if you played into that mystique by trying to point out some unconscious behaviour. I have been managed by some who felt ‘analysed’ if interpretations of their behaviour were proffered, and resentment could soon grow. However, first of all I am talking about something more simple and obvious.

It is very easy in the helping professions for people to be approached as if they are either cooperative seekers of help, responding to the wisdom and good sense of the helper, or as if resistant, defensive, hostile people in distress and unable to change. This is a very unhelpful way of understanding what is going on. We can be confident that those receiving a service have their own active agenda for the relationship with the worker as for the life that surrounds that relationship. What is more, that agenda is very unlikely to be a consistent and wholly conscious one. In referring to the agenda as unconscious, I am not talking about some deep seated Freudian neurosis. For example, someone may miss an appointment. They may know how that happened – perhaps they forgot. They may even know something about why they forgot – perhaps they had an argument with their son at the wrong moment. It is fairly likely however that their grasp of why they forgot only refers to part of the explanation. They might feel uneasy that it suited them to forget – they may have been reluctant to keep the appointment in the first place. Or it might not occur to them that a distressing event could be a reason to remember the appointment, if their investment in the value of the appointment were substantial.

Whatever the layers of reasons there might be, they reflect this active agenda that all service users have in relation to the service and its provider.


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