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Sunday, February 19, 2017

Should therapist share personal views with clients?



Shortly after the U.S. presidential election, L.L., a psychotherapist who practices family therapy, writes that she had an unusual experience. While she was used to her clients talking with her about any number of issues, it was rare for them to talk politics.

Two different clients, each with strong feelings about the election, started their sessions by expressing their strong feelings about the election's outcome. Each had different reasons for how they felt, L.L. writes, but each went on for quite a bit of time into their respective sessions, before pausing, looking up at L.L.

"Pretty much identical statements followed," writes L.L., indicating that each said a variation of, "Oops, I'm assuming you feel the same."

Neither client was seeking L.L.'s advice on some therapeutic issues. But, she writes that "both had started talking as though they knew I supported the same candidate they did."

"What if I didn't?" asks L.L. "Should I have told them?"

I am not a psychotherapist. I do not meet with clients each day. But it's fair to observe that the reason clients seek out L.L.'s services is to help them deal with issues they bring to each session, whether these have to do with family, work, or anything else resulting in their need to seek her out. If a client sought out L.L.'s advice on how to sort out conflicting feelings they have about making election decisions, it seems her job would be to help them sort these feelings out, not to tell them who to vote for.

L.L. also makes clear that she sets boundaries with her clients. While she works hard to let them know she is genuinely concerned about them and their mental health, she also works hard not to bring her personal life into the relationship. Her job, she writes, is to work with her clients on their issues, not to burden them with hers.

But here, L.L. found herself in an atypical situation where two of her clients had a strong emotional response to an issue that they expressed to her and then paused when they realized that they might be ranting against a person L.L. supported. So, when the expressed their assumption that L.L. might share their visceral response, should she have told them she voted the same or different from how they did?

That each of the patients paused out of concern that they might be offending L.L. by making an assumption suggests that they likely built a strong bond with her. They feel comfortable speaking with her, but also are concerned about making false assumptions about her seeing the world the same as they do.

Obviously, L.L. shouldn't lie to her clients about which candidate she voted for, but she has no obligation to tell them, unless, for some reason that escapes me (again, not a psychotherapist myself), she believes there is a therapeutic value in doing so.

Instead, the right thing is for L.L. to do as she has always done with her clients and either encourage them to keep talking or to try to direct them to talk about other issues that are relevant to their care. In response, to their "oops" comment, L.L. would simply had to respond "That's OK," and then move on with the discussion that focused on them and their needs. 

Jeffrey L. Seglin, author of The Simple Art of Business Etiquette: How to Rise to the Top by Playing Nice, is a lecturer in public policy and director of the communications program at Harvard's Kennedy School. He is also the administrator of www.jeffreyseglin.com, a blog focused on ethical issues. 

Do you have ethical questions that you need answered? Send them to rightthing@comcast.net. 

Follow him on Twitter: @jseglin 

(c) 2017 JEFFREY L. SEGLIN. DISTRIBUTED BY TRIBUNE CONTENT AGENCY, LLC.

Sunday, February 12, 2017

A powerful conversion after lousy customer service



When his daughter was planning a trip to Iceland, J.K., a reader from Boston, read the travel materials supplied by the tour group organizing her trip and discovered that she would need a plug adapter if she wanted to plug in any of the electronics she might bring with her. What the materials didn't say is whether she would also need a voltage converter since Iceland operates on a 220-volt system and North America operates at 110.

Most laptops, cellphones, and tablets have an automatic voltage converter built into their plugs, something that J.K. confirmed by reading the tiny print on the plugs themselves. The only item his daughter would need to be able to charge those items is a plug adapter.

J.K. researched online to find out what kind of plug adapter she'd need for Iceland. Then he rifled through his desk and found that he had just the kind she needed.

What J.K. didn't have was a voltage converter. His daughter would need one to charge her camera's battery. Again, he took to the internet and found a local office supply store that seemed to carry several different types.

When J.K. and his daughter got to the store, it wasn't clear which, if any, of the plug adapters was also a voltage converter. The packaging on each item was sealed tight so they couldn't get to the instructions or specifications.

On his smartphone, J.K. searched for a toll-free number for the company that manufactured some of the converters in stock, found it, and gave it a call. After finally getting through to a live customer service person, J.K. read the various model numbers to him and asked if any of them was also a voltage converter. The customer service representative said he would look the item up on his computer to see, ultimately telling J.K. that there was nothing on his screen indicating the items were voltage converters, so, "No, I suspect they're not."

After a bit of back and forth, J.K. got off the phone. He went to the information desk to ask if someone who might know something about the adapters could help him. When the clerk came over, he asked if he knew if any of the adapters was also a voltage converter. The fellow took a look at the packages and pointed out very small print (even smaller than J.K. remembers seeing on the plugs of his daughter's electronics) that indicated one of the items was indeed also a converter.

He bought it and it worked great for his daughter while she was in Iceland.

"Wasn't it unethical for the guy on the phone to tell me the adapter wasn't also a converter when he really just didn't know?"

Bad training? Maybe. Poor customer service? Perhaps. Not giving its customer service representative the tools they need to do their jobs competently? Certainly. The manufacturer could and should do a better job of training its customer service representatives to know its products.

But incompetence doesn't make the guy unethical as much as it makes him and the manufacturer look incompetent. Were it not for the knowledgeable office supply store guy helping them out, the manufacturer might have lost the business.

Fortunately, J.K.'s daughter got what she needed, and the pictures she shared with her father when she got home made them both happy. 

Jeffrey L. Seglin, author of The Simple Art of Business Etiquette: How to Rise to the Top by Playing Nice, is a lecturer in public policy and director of the communications program at Harvard's Kennedy School. He is also the administrator of www.jeffreyseglin.com, a blog focused on ethical issues. 

Do you have ethical questions that you need answered? Send them to rightthing@comcast.net. 

Follow him on Twitter: @jseglin 

(c) 2017 JEFFREY L. SEGLIN. DISTRIBUTED BY TRIBUNE CONTENT AGENCY, LLC.