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Massage Today
June, 2012, Vol. 12, Issue 06

When a Question is Not a Question

By Ben Benjamin, PhD

If you have a good working relationship with your clients, odds are, it's because you can speak openly to one another. Besides your hands, clear communication is the most effective tool you have to help your clients.

By learning some simple steps, you can elicit ways to help them far beyond reducing their muscle tension, anxiety or pain. As in any conversation, the questions you ask are critical to obtaining the information you need to create an honest and effective relationship.

In my new book, "Conversation Transformation: Recognize and Overcome The 6 Most Destructive Communication Patterns," I discuss the four categories of questions that people ask. Two are useful when employed in your practice, and two are not, because they don't provide any useful information. This second type of question only serves your purposes, usually unconsciously, not that of your client. The two types of inquiries that will lead to frustration are leading questions and righteous questions.

Leading Questions

You may ask more of these in your daily routine than you realize. These are opinions in question form, implicitly seeking agreement rather than new information, or no information at all. "Doesn't that stretch feel great? All my clients love it." Or, "Don't you think it would be better if you were not sitting at your computer all day? That's the problem most people have." With a leading question, you're conveying to your client that you want agreement with your assessment, rather than learning more about his or her individual needs.

Righteous Questions

These are attacks in the form of questions, expressing blame or indignation. Although you're not likely to ask a blatant form of a righteous question, like, "What were you thinking?" A more subtle version might be asked without your realizing the impact like, "Don't you realize what all that stress is doing to your body?" Your clients are looking to you for help in dealing with stress or a chronic problem. A righteous question chastises them for their lifestyle or blames them for what they probably realize are stress-inducing practices. These types of questions are likely to make your clients feel worse about themselves when they're coming to you for help and relief. The attacking nature of these questions is usually in the voice tone.

The two types of questions you DO want to ask, because they will elicit the kind of information that might help you to get to know your client better are broad questions and narrow questions. This may sound counter-intuitive, but both of these types of inquiries invite thoughts, proposals, conclusions and opinions that you may not have considered. First, is the open-ended question.

Broad Questions

This is the largest possible funnel for information. You define the topic of conversation, but you don't put any limits on what the client might say about the topic. If you ask, "Before we begin the session, tell me how you are feeling?" You may get more insight than you expect. You might also be able to determine what's stressing them that could lead to fear, anxiety or prevent their body from healing an injury. You can narrow a broad question without getting too specific and your client will be able to give you a more specific answer in reply. For instance, you could ask, "Tell me how your new exercise program is going? Or,"How are you feeling about our work together?"

Narrow Questions

This is a much smaller way to funnel information. The answers are now strictly limited to "yes" or "no," or an isolated piece of data. You are asking for specific information like, "On a scale of 1 to 10 how much pain are you in now as opposed to two weeks ago?" If you turn a narrow question into a leading question, where you "lead" the client to a specific answer, the funnel gets even smaller. "Isn't that injured knee much better?" is a narrow and leading question that leaves only one acceptable answer, agreeing with you. While it's okay to get specific about determining your client's real needs, using broad questions will often help your client open up to you and feel comfortable being honest and forthright. Like most successful relationships, there has to be give and take, and your client needs to feel safe and free from judgment.

Remember, with most leading questions, and all righteous questions, the funnel for information is fairly blocked. Keeping your communication pathways open will serve you well. Open lines of communication are critical to creating a good client-therapist rapport, but they're just as important in all of your relationships.

Click here for more information about Ben Benjamin, PhD.


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