Communication is more than an exchange of verbal information. The more you know about the structure and function of communication, the more you can use this information to build instant rapport and connect with clients on a level that will increase your effectiveness, build trust and respect, and contribute to a strong client base.
Communication is a process by which information is exchanged between individuals by imparting our words, thoughts, feelings and energetic information. We do this through speaking, writing, tone of voice and body language.
We all communicate, but few of us actually connect. If your tone of voice, body language and the words you choose are not congruent, you risk sending a conflicting message to your clients on a subconscious level. As a result, clients could become apprehensive or cautious in your presence.
On a conscious level, a client might sense that something is not congruent, and she could be unable to pinpoint exactly what is causing her to be guarded in her interaction with you. If you want to build a deep connection with your clients and maintain a successful practice, think about making an intention every day to connect on a level that lets your clients know they have been heard, understood and respected.
Communication is both conscious and subconscious. It is the exchange of information through the use of words, tone of voice and body language. Our communication consists not only of words, but of facial expression, tone of voice and body language as well.
This is why clients’ words and phrases combined with tone of voice, expression and body language give a therapist a lot of information to utilize. How many times have you had a client come to your practice and speak to you in an agitated tone of voice? In those instances, clients’ body language was probably guarded, and the words they used to describe their condition probably sounded short and abrupt.
Everything a client does and says is valuable information for the massage therapist. Use your observations to notice the client’s initial state of being, and use this information to help chart a course toward where your client can be after the session. With your client in agreement, you will soon notice that his overall appearance will soften as he feels you have connected with where he is in the current moment. At the end of the session, you can help him recall how he was when he first came in, and validate his improvement. This opens up the conversation for the follow-up appointment.
The words a client chooses and the phrases she creates communicate her state of mind. If a client is stuck in a particular state, you might hear her repeat the description of her chronic pain in multiple variations.
For instance, the client might tell you, “I’m tired of this pain in my neck”; “When I move my head in this direction, I feel pain”; and “This pain is giving me a headache, and I don’t want it anymore.”
Rephrasing, in your own words, helps the client know you have heard her. Tell her, “Let me be sure I heard you correctly. What I heard you say is you are experiencing a pain in your neck that is giving you a headache and you are tired of the experience. Did I hear you correctly?”
Acknowledging what you heard conveys to a client that you were listening. When we can make known our complete presence to our clients, trust can begin to be established and the relationship can grow deeper. On many occasions, my clients have stated that they value the time I take to listen intently to what they have to say.
It isn’t what a client says but how he says it that conveys detailed information. A client’s tone of voice can signal the depth and urgency of his present experience. Make a mental note of his tone. Is it sarcastic, fearful, depressed, pessimistic or aggressive? Notice what the tone is at the beginning of his session and make a comparison at the end of the session to notice if his tone has shifted. You can use this information to support the effectiveness of the massage session.
For example, you might say, “Your voice, to me, sounds calmer and more relaxed than when we first started. Are you aware of a change in your tone?” This is an open invitation for him to take a mental stock of his before-and-after experience.
Noticing how a client moves comes naturally for you as a massage therapist. You can gather a lot of information from a client’s body language. Her gait might communicate a sore foot, ankle, knee or hip. She might hold her head in a static position and use one of her hands for extra support, indicating a possible neck problem. Her facial expression is, of course, another indicator of state of being.
These examples of nonverbal, wordless pieces of client communication can be collected together to support your client’s session and measure improvements after the massage session. They also become very valuable in your charting of a client’s progress in your SOAP notes. Tone of voice can be a subjective observation, for example, while facial expression can be an objective observation.
Listening is more than hearing what someone said. Communicating with the intent to connect can’t occur unless you listen actively to a client with intention. This means you do not listen with the intent to reply. You listen with your whole being. Your body language conveys I am here with you, with openness and a position facing the speaker. Your facial expression conveys I am here with you, with appropriate eye contact and soft features. Your eyes convey I am here with you and I care about you and what you are saying, with expression that reflects empathy.
We listen at four very distinct levels: cosmetic, conversational, active and deep. Begin to notice where you spend the most time with your listening skills.
Cosmetic listening is the polite stage. You appear to be listening, and maybe you do hear a few words here and there—but unless the topic is interesting to you, you are probably tuning the speaker out. So, you might appear to be listening, but your thoughts are actually somewhere else.
Conversational listening is the stage you are probably most comfortable and familiar with. Here, you converse politely, but in your head you are thinking about what you are going to say next, while the speaker is still speaking. Sometimes, you might even find yourself interrupting because you don’t want to forget what you will say when it is your turn. Conversational people love to hear themselves talk, on and on and on.
The active state of listening is one in which the listener is fully committed to the conversation. You become unaware of time and space. You might notice that your body language tends to mimic the other person’s. You are fully engaged in what she is speaking about and you might even nod your head, to show agreement; widen your eyes for surprise; produce tears for empathy; and your voice might express an “Oh” or “Mmm” every now and then. In the active mode, you are engaged with the other person, fully alert and fully aware. This is the stage where you can effectively connect and build rapport with your clients. In the active stage of listening, the speaker, on an unconscious level, feels heard and respected.
Deep listening might be reserved for a client who is in a distressed state of being. He might be in acute pain, experiencing raw emotions, or in a state of fight-flight-freeze. This stage requires you to be completely focused; not thinking about how to fix the problem or offering any opinion; and not even validating the state of mind the client is in. Just be fully present with your whole being, offering your full, undivided attention. This can greatly assist the person who just needs someone just to listen. Be mindful that if the client seems to want more than what you are trained in, such as counseling, that is obviously out of your scope of practice.
Commit to Better Client Communication
The heart and soul of your business is built on effective communication followed by your commitment to offer your massage expertise to the best of your ability. When you make the decision to truly connect with clients, you will take your business to a new level of meaning and experience with more passion, more purpose and more possibilities.
About the Author
Donna Schmid is a speaker and coach, founder of the Wise Woman Community and creator of the Wise Woman Quest program, which teaches professional women to align what they think, say and do so they can manage emotions, overcome challenges and communicate effectively. She is a National Certification Board for Therapeutic Massage & Bodywork-approved educator for her course, The Anatomy and Physiology of Communication for Massage Therapists.