Friday, August 14, 2009

Silence Sometimes Key for Good Conversation

It's often effective, when interviewing people for a documentary, to wait quietly for a few moments after the interviewee is done answering your question. The interviewee is likely to fill in the gap of silence with another thought or insight. Maybe she does it because the silence makes her nervous, maybe it actually creates a comfortable environment. You may get some valuable info using this tactic.

Practice of using silence occasionally translates well into case management. It's sometimes appreciated by a client as encouragement to keep speaking or share something new. Quieter clients especially seem to benefit from this -- although some rapport needs to be established for this to work.

Also, sometimes clients just need to vent and since some have very few outlets for this they use you, the case manager, to do this, and here a bit of silence of course works great.* Recognizing when a client is just complaining because 1) they want to be listened to or 2) they want you to do something about it is not always clear cut. It's almost disorienting for me when I understand a client just wants to vent because I'm so used to problem solving mode for a good part of the day. The other day I got a call from an elderly gentleman about a woman who lives down the street from him and insulted him who said something insulting to him. What she said wasn't exactly a threat but certainly made him feel uncomfortable. So I started asking him specific questions (because I have a history with this client of making false accusations) and eventually learned that what he wanted to do was get what happened off his chest.

* I don't mean complete silence, but more focus on listening than asking questions or taking control of the conversation.

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