Attending and listening are skills that are both interrelated – they complement and affect each other. By attending to a client, it enables you to actively listen to their verbal and non-verbal messages. Attending to the client communicates that you are ‘present’ and interested in what they have to say. The quality of your attending skills can send powerful messages to the client, especially if your non-verbal behaviour (posture, gestures and voice) is at odds to what you say. If you attend well, then empathy, genuineness and acceptance are communicated to the client.
Below are a few pointers on how to improve attending skills:
- Posture – adopt an ‘open’ posture to signal that you are interested and keen to connect with the client. You need to find a posture that is comfortable, centred and upright, facing the client with a slight lean towards them. Leaning back and slouching do not communicate alert attention
- Eye contact – maintain continuous and direct eye contact with the client. This does not mean staring at them! It helps to show the client you are available for them – whenever they look at you, they will find you looking at them, and not staring into space or at something else. If clients look or sound uncomfortable with eye contact, then temporarily break it off and then return
- Facial expression – be aware of what information your facial expression might be communicating to the client. Ideally, facial expression should be consistent with what you are saying. You can also mirror the client by matching their facial expression. For example, if the client reports an achievement, then look pleased
- Seating – make sure that you are seated at an appropriate distance to the client. This is usually 3 to 5 feet. Also, ensure that the seats are of the same height. You may find that instead of facing the client directly, they may prefer to position the seats at a slight angle. Some clients find this more relaxed and less confrontational