Lesson 1 – Reciprocal Relationships

Reciprocal Relationships

Interpersonal relationships have a reciprocal quality about them. In a relationship with another person our expectations are likely to be a self-fulfilling prophecy.

For example, if Manager A believes that Employee B/Client B is dishonest and untrustworthy, the manager/clinician is apt to communicate these suspicions to the employee or client through verbal and non-verbal behaviour such as unwarranted questioning, staring, and unfriendly facial expressions.

The more the client detects these untrusting behaviours the more he or she will feel uncomfortable with the manager, and as a result he or she may not fully disclose information to the manager, whose expectations about the client are then fulfilled.

The power of reciprocal expectations or self-fulfilling prophecies is frightening. For example, a professor experimented with three of her college classes to see if she could cause a self-fulfilling prophecy.

When she graded the first exam, the average grade was the same for three of her business and professional communication courses. When she returned the papers to the first class, she praised them for their high grades and intelligent, thoughtful answers. While returning papers to the second class, the professor neither praised nor criticised the class. However, while returning papers to the third class, she severely reprimanded the students for having the lowest grades she had ever seen and for giving thoughtless, undeveloped answers. No further mention of the exam grades was mentioned and the classes continued as usual.

The results of the second exam were surprising. The grades from the class that had been praised were much better than on the first exam; the class that was neither praised nor cirticised was about the same; and the grades of the class that had been severely cirticised were much worse than on the first exam.

Feeling bad about what had happened; the professor told the class what she had done. Nobody believed her. The improved class said they made better grades because they were better students. The class with the poor grades said she was just trying to make them feel better; they knew they were truly poor students.

Although there is an element of risk involved, we can predict and achieve positive results. How do you think we can achieve better results or performance from our clients?

  • Expect more and you get more, especially if you are clear at the outset what your expectations are.
  • Take the advice of Peter Drucker, the management guru, and praise the client for the things they are doing right.
  • Be aware of and on the lookout for destructive cycles in your conversations with clients, and initiate a break from that cycle.

Somebody has to initiate the move to a more positive or constructive cycle and you as the manager/supervisor will be the more likely choice. For employees, remember that clients may have a low self-image and be uncomfortable with someone they perceive has more power. They may view decision-making as a personal threat, and prefer to be led by the hand rather than make a decision. Many clients expect to get a raw deal from life, and if they are unhappy with the service they are receiving, they won’t complain, although they may try to shift to another counselor or another organisation, without ever saying why.