Influencing Skills

“All inherited possibilities and all influences of the body, all environmental influences, including educational application, are perceived, assimilated, digested, and answered by a living and striving being, striving for a successful achievement in his view. The subjectiveness of the individual, his special style of life, and his conception of life mold and shape all influences. The individual life collects all these influences and uses them as provocative bricks in building a totality which aims toward a successful goal in relating itself to outside problems.” (Alfred Adler)

Influence is a governing concept in any decision-making process, relationship and ultimately, behavioural response. It is also the raw material for the production of concepts such as power, persuasion, attraction, and many others which are highly relevant in our daily lives.

In this article, however, we will focus particularly on the appropriate, positive application of influence in the counselling relationship.

A Brief Overview of Influence

The word influence originates from the Medieval Latin influentia, which in turn is based on the Latin expression influens (present participle of influere or “to flow in”). In the context of this article, as the Merriam-Webster dictionary defines, influence is “the act or power of producing an effect without apparent exertion of force or direct exercise of command”. Such “act or power” has been a dominating factor in the history of civilization, where social interactions have dictated the progress (and regress) of humanity in a wide variety of ways.

Culture, for example, is a mark of influence. The numerous cultures and sub-cultures in the world today are a product of the merging and intertwining of many cultural components, rituals, patterns of behaviour, etc. Our pliability to other habits and ways of life has shaped a globalised and multicultural world.

Political influence has been responsible for a complex distribution of power amongst nations, organisations and individuals. Despite the type of influence one may hold, it seems that the more influential you are – the more control over your life (and the lives of others) you will have.

Influence in Counselling

To discuss influence in counselling, we first need to dispel the perception that influence is negative. Such a perception is a result of negative persuasion: using influence to gain power and control over others. This has been a common practice in societies for a long time, and a mark of many civilizations. Just take a quick mental picture of all the ‘evil’ rulers you have heard of and you will realise how this misperception has developed.

The counselling process aims to evoke positive change within clients, so they can overcome their problems and live a happier life. Without influence, there would be no practical purpose for the counselling relationship. Think for a moment: would you visit a counsellor that you know won’t cause an impact on your way of thinking? People expect counsellors to influence them; they just don’t particularly like that terminology.

“Influence is a part of all interviewing and counselling. Even if we use solely attending skills with clients, we still influence what occurs in the session – being heard by another person greatly influences the way all of us think about ourselves and organize our lives.” (Ivey & Ivey, p. 307)

Counselling Microskills: Influencing

Ivey & Ivey (2003) cites three general interpersonal influencing skills (confrontation, focusing and reflection of meaning), along with other six more skills that can be employed in a counselling session (interpretation/reframe, logical consequences, self-disclosure, feedback, information and directives).

Each of these skills, if used in the appropriate context, can add great value to the counselling relationship. They are commonly used as part of a pre-defined strategy in which the counsellor aims to take a proactive stance towards change. Because many of these skills involve a delicate balance of power between counsellor and client, it is very important that the professional is observant to ethical and communicational issues when dealing with the client.

Confrontation helps clients face themselves realistically, especially as they interact with other people. It is a direct technique with an open, honest identification of self-defeating patterns and manipulations. This technique challenges clients to reconcile and integrate those aspects of themselves that are in conflict. Focusing aims to direct the focus of the client to another area, helping them generate a new perspective towards their own story.

Reflection of meaning is similar to the process of reframing, when the client builds a new perspective towards a problem. In reflection of meaning, however, the client will assign new meanings to his or her situation in order to derive a positive perspective towards it.

Reframing is a commonly used skill in counselling. The objective of this skill is to help the client build a positive perspective towards a problem in order to take effective action. It involves using a different frame of reference towards a problem.

Logical consequences enable the client to visualise possible outcomes of alternative actions, thus looking at positive possibilities and concentrating on achieving those.

Self-disclosure involves the counsellor disclosing personal information which is relevant (or supportive) to the client’s decision-making process. It is normally used as a motivational factor which helps the client concentrate on the positive aspects of a situation. Furthermore, it tends to create additional trust and rapport in the relationship.

Feedback involves giving concise information to the client which he or she will be able to use as reference for improvement. It should concentrate on the positive aspects of the individual, and how he can explore certain possibilities in order to achieve further improvement.

Providing information and broad suggestion can introduce clients to new possibilities, highlight alternatives and inspire new ways of approaching old problems.

Of course, the above microskills are used in varying degrees depending on the counsellor’s approach and personal framework. Nonetheless when utilised effectively, influencing skills can serve to encourage fresh perspective and promote hope.