Category Archives: Engaging

9 Steps to Developing Effective Communication Skills

In our last post we discussed the role of good communication in building relationships and resolving conflict. In this post we expand on ways to improve our communication skills.

As IFPS staff we know how to use effective communication skills. The following suggestions are a reminder to pause and recall what we know.

1. Think about the problem prior to taking action.
What is the situation? What are your assumptions? What do you hope to accomplish?

2. Reach out to others with sincerity by engaging and listening to them.

3. Try to see the other person’s viewpoint.
They have specific reasons for what they are doing which we can’t know until they tell us.

4. Contribute to open communication by staying present.
If you are thinking about what you’re going to say next you can’t fully listen to the person now.

5. Seek to understand the situation and avoid personalizing it.
Focusing on the other person and your relationship with that person keeps it from being all about you.

6. Ask for clarification as needed.
Don’t assume you know what the person is thinking or feeling or all aspects of the situation.

7. Maintain good self-control.
It may feel good to lash out, especially if you are angry, but it won’t help you reach your communication goals.

8. Find opportunities to help the other person.
With their permission you can clarify or problem-solve with them.

9. Remember that every interaction builds or erodes the relationship.
Maintaining and building a relationship is easier and more pleasant than trying to repair it.


Posted by Moneefah D. Jackson and Peg Marckworth


Using Good Communication to Resolve Conflict

Communication is a skill that needs to be developed just like any other skill.

It appears that some people are able to master the art of communication very easily while others seem to have a challenging time. Even if a person belongs to the latter group, it is still possible for the individual to learn to share their thoughts in a pleasant and respectful manner in order to communicate effectively. Ronald R. Sims (Organizational Behavior, 2002) states that “communication is the sharing of information between two or more individuals or groups to reach a common understanding.”

If we are having difficulty helping IFPS families to resolve conflict because we lack good communication, we need to ask ourselves, “Could we improve our communication skills?” It is imperative to know that communication is a vital tool that can help us to understand one another, why others make the decision they do, or perhaps making just a simple statement.


How can we develop mature communication skills?

First, we must have good self-control. Second, we will need to try to see the other person’s viewpoint. Third, we need to seek clarification.

Good communication does not mean saying everything that we are thinking and feeling, especially if we are angry. Good communication helps us establish and maintain peaceful relationships. If we work hard to do what we can to improve our relationships with others, it can improve our communication with them.

So, when it comes to resolving conflict through good communication, why not try the following:

  1. Contribute to open communication.
  2. Reach out to others with sincere kind acts.
  3. Find opportunities to help and give a gift from the heart.
  4. Think about the problem prior to taking action.
  5. Avoid personalizing the situation.
  6. Seek to understand the situation.

We must remember that “every interaction is an intervention.”

Posted by Moneefah D. Jackson

Engaging Fathers

It seems that when working with families, especially with those who are not in contact with the fathers of their children, counselors tend to be quiet about bringing up the idea of father involvement. No one really knows the reason why this happens; but one can assume that fathers are not often thought about because they may not be playing a role in the lives of their children. Most of the time the men are either working or are not around. Sometimes they are living apart from the children because of past conflict with the mother. Mothers seem to be more of the caretaker who provides for the ongoing basic needs of their children, no matter what.

A recent survey of the extent to which IFPS providers involve fathers revealed the following:

Chart: How do IFPS workers engage fathers?

If fathers are given the opportunity and are encouraged to be part of the intervention, the children’s behavior may improve and they would experience a positive change in their family dynamics. If fathers were to be interviewed, many of them would probably say that they want to play an active role in the lives of their children. With fathers involved, a stronger parental bond can be established between the parents and with the children, which can help to influence positive changes within the family.

According to the Fatherhood Institute website dated December 15, 2010, “children of involved fathers are more likely to live in cognitively stimulating homes (Williams & Sternberg, 2002) and fathers’ commitment to the education process also matters.” If a teenager is having issues with being destructive at home, would it not be a good idea to include every member of the family, since the problem not only affects one person, but everyone within the family?  This would give the families the opportunity to work together and build on change. So the question is asked again, why not include fathers in the intervention process?

According to the Social Work Dictionary (5th Edition), family therapy “focuses on the whole system of individuals and interpersonal and communication patterns. It seeks to clarify roles and reciprocal obligations and to encourage more adaptable behaviors among the family members.” If we believe in the family system, why is it that fathers are not included in the intervention process? After all, is it not our goal as counselors to have the family work together in order to decrease the extremity of unhealthy behaviors? Fathers can become a supportive beam to the structure of the household that will help to stabilize the foundation of the family. When the entire family is part of the intervention, we see greater progress and stability within the family.

To engage fathers, perhaps we can consider the following questions when interviewing the mothers:

  • Do you have any safety concerns that keep you from wanting your children to have more contact with their father?
  • How can you reach out to the child(ren)’s father?
  • What relationship does the child(ren) have with their father?
  • How often does the child(ren) see their father?
  • What type of influences might the father have on the children?
  • It seems that if we involve the father in the intervention, the child may begin to work on some positive changes. What do you think?

Of course one is aware that not every child may have the opportunity to have a father around due to possible safety issues or the nature of different circumstances. Nevertheless, we can begin to empower those fathers who are around and want to take an active role in their children’s lives.

As professionals, it is important that we work closely together to come up with different strategies on how to engage fathers and help them to be part of their children’s lives. If this happens, we will begin to see positive results.

For more information on IFPS and father involvement, see the IFPS Guide to Father Involvement.

Please feel free to comment and share your thoughts.

Posted by Moneefah D. Jackson

To Engage or Not to Engage?

That, of course, is a rhetorical question. Nevertheless, for many professionals, the skillful process of engaging families can be a great challenge. Why do so many professionals seem to struggle with engagement? Well, the reasons can be as diverse as the professionals who enter this work and the families who receive services. In IFPS, there are several reasons that make it a challenge.

The intervention is short-term. IFPS counselors may feel pressured to get the intervention process started without really getting to know the family.

Families may be reluctant to receive services, so they say “yes” to the intervention and then become actively unavailable in one way or another. There are families who do not wish to connect with their counselors or perhaps they may be facing some unknown problem of which the counselor is not aware that cause a disconnect.

The assumption the work needs to “get going”. For many, this work would be much easier if counselors could just jump right into conducting an intervention without having to concentrate on how to effectively engage families.

But, the challenging road of engagement cannot be avoided. So this opens the door to some questions.

1)     What does it really mean to engage families?

2)    How do we engage families?

3)    Why do we need to focus so much of our time in building a good rapport with clients?

The process of engaging families is not about just doing a job to get it done or making families feel good. The concept of engaging families has been around since the grassroots of social work. It came about as a way of building rapport with clients so that professionals will grasp a better understanding of how to work with clients on expressing themselves about the challenges they may face in their lives.

The process of engaging families requires competency, respect, creativity, insight, empathy, patience, humor, genuineness and the ability to connect with families so that one can have a better understanding of the crisis that families face. The Social Work Dictionary (5th Edition) states the following about engagement: “Rapport is the state of harmony, compatibility, and empathy that permits mutual understanding and a working relationship between the client and the social worker.” So then, the process of engaging families is about spending time to get to know the family and allowing them to know you as their partner in the process of change.

When we build a good relationship with families, the intervention process can move smoothly and the family will be able to succeed throughout the intervention. We need to spend time on building a good rapport with clients. We cannot help if we do not take the time to know. Engaging families can lead to effective goal development and adherence to the treatment plan. Then families will be able to benefit more from the services and become happy about the outcome of the intervention.

Building good rapport with families, and outlining the benefits of change, can lead to a full intervention with a successful outcome rating. To engage families, we as counselors, need to be warm (i.e., showing interest, understanding clients’ crisis, acceptance) when interacting with the different families we serve. When family members are engaged, counselors do not have to be too concerned about ongoing conflict throughout the intervention regarding the families’ compliance. Having a positive relationship will decrease the possibility of an interrupted intervention or perhaps a case being turned back.

It has been said that you can reach the heart of a person through their stomach; so why not bring an engaging snack to the family, like coffee, juice, donuts. Allow time for the family to talk about what interests them, highlight their strengths, and let them know that you look forward to working with and helping them. When that happens, families will be able to be empowered to make changes.

So what is your idea about the process of engaging families? Please feel free to share your thoughts and ideas.

Posted by Moneefah D. Jackson