Using images to get past the small talk

 In Counseling

Are you looking for a way to help you get past the small talk stage and to what matters most to your clients? A method that is fast, fun and doesn’t feel invasive?

It’s the get-to-know-you phase, which is sometimes referred to as doing an assessment or intake. Your new client is telling you about her life and goals. He may be running down his list of accomplishments to give you an overview of where he’s been so that you have a better understanding of his desired next steps. All of this is important information.

But at some point, you’re going to want to dig in a little deeper. Your client has told these same stories over and over to many different people but if that were all it took to figure things out he/she wouldn’t need you.

Digging without prying

People are most receptive to divulging more personal information about themselves when they feel someone isn’t prying or trying to get them to say things they don’t want to say. It is the art of asking that helps people share the things that you need to know to help them along their path. And using visuals can help you accomplish this without your client feeling pushed.

Be the Sherpa

Sherpas are the rugged guides that help mountain climbers scale the peaks of some of the world’s largest mountains. They carry huge loads, make camp, cook, and get injured climbers to safety. They are often the unsung heroes but without them there would be no glory for the climbers.

You as a coach, counselor or therapist are very much like the Sherpa. You act as guide and help people carry the load until they are ready to solo. You provide the base from which your clients attain new heights.

Help them to visualize the path and know the terrain

Here’s a method to get you past the small talk and into the juicy stuff that will help you to meet your clients’ goals. There are 2 steps you need to take to prepare for the process. The first is selecting a good question to ask the client and the second is to select a group of images that will help leap the conversation forward.

What do you have to make the climb?

The question you ask is one of the keys to knowing your client. In a sense you are asking them to unpack all of their climbing equipment and spread it out on the ground so that you both can see what they have brought to the task. Are they missing anything? Do they have an abundance of something they can utilize to make the trek more fulfilling? Does their compass match up with the route they said they want to take?

The question should be broad enough so that people have a number of directions they can take. Give them the freedom to express themselves fully.

Try these questions:

  • What matters most to you?
  • What has the most importance in your life?

Didn’t I already cover this?

You may be asking yourself if these questions are redundant. You most likely got some answers to these in your initial conversation. The beauty of using visuals is that they will take your client far deeper than words alone. Your client is going to add more to what they have already told you by divulging things like some of their core beliefs, values and dreams.

Getting to know the trails

The other important part to this process is choosing the best set of images for the desired outcome. If you are using the ImageCenter, try either the Visioning or Exploring Passion image decks. The printed VisualsSpeak image products could also be used.

When your clients do this exercise they are setting out on an explorative journey. There are many paths that they can take. The combination of the right question and the images will help reveal the information you and they need to choose the right ones.

Listening deeply

Tell your client the question you want him/her to explore. Have them choose images, which relate to the question. Tell them to not over-think the images they are selecting. Five minutes is plenty of time to do the exercise.

When the client is done arranging the pictures, have them tell you the story of the images. Listen deeply for anything they didn’t tell you before. Did you hear any core values mentioned? Are these values in sync with their stated goals? What are the beliefs they have about themselves and their goals? These are the kinds of things you want to pay attention to as your client speaks.

How do you help people past the small talk?

Have any suggestions for helping people get past the small talk? Share them in the comments section below.




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