"The emotion-based counseling makes participants happier, they feel better."
Tips for Emotion-Based Nutrition Counseling
Tips on setting a comfortable climate for sharing
Tip: Engage people before launching into counseling. Think of people not as participants, clients or message targets but people who, like you, want to be the best they can be.
Engagement begins when the person first arrives at the clinic. A warm welcome sets the stage for successful counseling. Greet children and chat as you would to a good friend as you walk to the counseling location. If waiting for other people, ask meaningful questions that show you have a sincere interest in their children and them. Provide a calm, fun, peaceful oasis in their busy lives and they will look forward to seeing you again.
How do you know when groups are engaged? Parents are reluctant to leave. They may share phone numbers for later contact. They may sincerely thank you when they leave. And you will have the warm feeling that results when good friends get together and have a good conversation.
Tip: When you’re meeting with parents, keep in mind what you’re really trying to achieve in your time together:
Tip: Add a dash of unpredictability and anticipation to the WIC routine. Stimulation, novelty and diversion are important ways to capture attention. Here are unexpected ways to add fun to group counseling sessions:
Tip: People find positive energy appealing. Comfortable, soothing, light, fun, fresh, upbeat, active, vibrant and invigorated are words associated with positive energy. (Positive energy doesn’t mean high energy, which could be difficult to sustain all day.) Boring, dull, bland, uninspired, routine and annoying messages are associated with low energy people and groups.
Why is your energy important? When people see you energized by topics, they think, “This must be important because that person seems so excited about it.” Interestingly, facilitators with low energy are often perceived as having low self-confidence.
How can you get the energy balance right? Focus only on the people you are with and give it your all. Block out the office, schedules, and co-workers. Be fully present for your families.
Tip: People may forget exactly what you say but they will never forget how you make them feel. Think about how you want parents to feel before each session and keep your focus on feelings throughout.
Tip: The more people speak during group meetings, the more ownership they have over the outcomes. The introduction can help ensure everyone says something. Use these questions to get everyone to share during the first minutes of the group:
Tip: Involve children in the group, when possible. If there is a lull in the conversation or if people aren’t talking, ask children what they think about the topic or for advice on how to take action. Parents may be surprised and delighted with the fun and practical wisdom shared by children.
Tips: Start group sessions on time. It is important to respect the time and efforts of those who arrived on time. But it’s likely that one or more participants will arrive late to group sessions. Smile warmly as they arrive, greet them with a friendly voice and give them a ten-second update on the group discussion. Then move on with the conversation, encouraging the participation of late arrivals with eye contact and a smile.
Tips on getting people to talk in groups or individual sessions
Tip: Silence is golden, especially when it comes to emotion-based conversations. It takes time for parents to hear and process questions and comments that touch their hearts. Sit back, relax and wait for gems to fall from their mouth rather than rushing to their rescue by providing more probes or prompts.
Tip: Want parents to share more ideas and solutions? Ask “What else?” rather than “Anything else?”
Tip: The group leader is in control of the group, but she is the least important person in the room. Share personal experiences, challenges and successes sparingly while keeping the focus on group members. This does not mean hiding behind walls but rather keeping the spotlight on others.
Tip: Conversation lagging? It is time to energize the group. Try these techniques:
Tips on encouraging emotion-based sharing
Tip: There are many ways of asking questions.
Tip: Acknowledge and name feelings to generate deeper discussions. Examples:
To generate feeling statements from the group, say: “I’m not trying to talk you into anything. I am just trying to understand how you feel.”
Tip: Focus on the emotion-based reasons WHY parents should take action before discussing HOW TO do so. Why is this effective? Until people know the emotion-based benefits—personal value—of taking action, they don’t care about how to do it. Moving too quickly to HOW TO information assumes that parents understand how the action will enrich or bring joy to their life. Focus on the emotion-based benefits of taking action first, not the logical ones.
Tip: Some nutrition educators purposely build walls to prevent becoming too emotional about the people they serve. They prefer to view people from a distance, sidestepping real issues, and avoiding authentic conversations that may be upsetting, yet more effective in changing behaviors. Emotions may not easily fit with traditional nutrition training, but they do drive behavior change. Challenging traditional mind sets may be the first step in becoming an emotion-based counselor.
Tip: Be a “vibe” watcher.
Tip: Expect emotion-based counseling groups to be interactive and fun. But there may be times when some people don’t participate or act as expected. Here’s how to handle those situations:
Tip: Here’s a quick checklist for you to consider at the end of emotion-based sessions:
If the answers aren’t what you want, make a plan to improve next time.
Tip: Don’t expect emotion-based counseling to follow a cookie-cutter format. Trust participants to take the group where it wants to be. Relax, enjoying the unique twists and turns that come when groups are fully engaged in discussing and changing their lives. Don’t watch the clock. Expect group members to care about you and your feelings too, showing respect and support as you guide the group.
Tip: The goal of emotion-based counseling is to connect actions with emotions, values and beliefs. When people share their inner-most feelings, it is possible that words, experience and memories may cause them to become upset or unleash tears. Offer a tissue and a pat on the back while thanking the mother for sharing her honest feelings. Continue the discussion on a lighter note and before leaving reconnect with the mother to be sure she is emotionally okay.
Tips on encouraging behavior change
Tip: Suggestions on how to change behaviors can come across as critical or judgmental. Give at least three compliments on what the parents are already doing “right” before discussing ways to change.
Tip: Be likeable. People don’t act on advice from people they don’t like. That means that being likeable is essential to your job.
Deciding to be likeable is the first step to being likeable. Here’s a list of characteristics that make you more likeable:
Tip: People are more likely to take action when the decision is theirs and when they come up with action steps and timelines. It may be easier for you to offer suggestions and ideas, but it is more important that they do it themselves.
Tip: The biggest challenge to transition from traditional methods of nutrition education is to overcome the tendency to tell people what to do and how to do it. Unfortunately, the more you direct and suggest, the less people listen and act. Instead, listen to what is important to them—emotional benefits—and frame suggestions as a way to reach those needs. Your job is to make them curious about what could be, and then step back and watch them astonish themselves with what they do. Their resulting pride will inspire them to keep changing.
Tips on encouraging participants to share practical advice with others in groups
Tip: Approach parent conversations with the belief that the person you are talking to has the answers to her challenges. This belief will likely change your listening-talking balances with you doing most of the listening and the parents doing most of the talking. Actually listen to what they are saying; don’t just wait for them to finish so you can speak.
Tip: Some parents may share tips or information that is not accurate and may even cause harm. Facilitators need to correct potentially harmful advice while protecting the parent’s self-esteem. In addition, they need to preserve a comfortable climate for future sharing. They can do this by thanking the participant for sharing this information, noting that it is a common myth and one that can cause harm. After correcting the misinformation, thank them again for helping others hear about the myth so that no one acts on this.
Tips on how to be a good group facilitator
Tip: There’s a lot more to being a great parent than just choosing health-promoting behaviors and those topics are likely to come up during group discussions. If they can be resolved or discussed quickly, continue the discussion and gradually redirect it to WIC topics. Use these comments when the subject wanders too much:
Tip: It is important to provide closure to the group time. Don’t let it fizzle to a meaningless ending. Close the meeting with the same care used to start it. The goal is to reinforce the sense of community created. Here are simple ways:
Tip: A group facilitator is not there to display her expertise. If a parent asks you a question, rephrase it for the group to respond. Example: “You asked about ways to get children to eat vegetables. What’s worked with your children? What suggestions do you have for Rachel?” The facilitator should respond directly to a question only when she is sure that the group members have exhausted their own knowledge and experiences.
Tip: Reframe the conversation if people argue or become confrontational. Sometimes people who can’t agree about details can agree on a concept or goal. For example: people don’t agree on when to first offer cereal to babies. Redirect the conversation to the larger goal—protecting precious babies as they develop—and try again to identify ways of doing this.
Tip: Have a plan for your sessions, but be ready to throw it out. A good plan provides the “safety net” needed when trying new approaches, but great groups often happen “in the moment.” Be tuned in at all times to what is happening and be able to “fly by the seat of your pants” as the group works to meet their objectives.
Tip: Children, motherhood, eating, feeding—what topics are more emotional? Conversations about these topics are personally important and deeply meaningful. As you exchange words about the most private and meaningful parts of life—being a great parent—consider these ethical considerations:
Tip: When conversations get off track or are rambling, gather attention and focus with this statement: “Let me tell you what I am hearing; tell me if you agree.”
Tip: Don’t be afraid to ask the group for help. If you’re stuck, ask the group to suggest a new topic. If the conversation is meandering, ask them to summarize the discussion so far. If there is conflict, ask them to restate key points for each perspective. If only a few people are participating, ask non-participants to suggest topics they are interested in discussing.
Tip: Occasionally, a participant may be hostile, angry, confrontational, demanding or combative. They may demand immediate correction of a problem or refuse to participate in the group. The best way to deal with a hostile person is to dig deep within yourself and feel empathy for this person. Proceed with kindness, softly, slowly and respectfully talking with them. Don’t force them to participate. Say something supportive like: “Seems like this has been a frustrating day. I will do my best to make it better.”
Tip: Be yourself. No need to be an entertainer or stand-up comedian. But you must convey that you understand their emotional needs as well as their physical ones. That skill comes from being an authentic person who recognizes that all humans experience successes and challenges. You can feel empathy even if your challenges are not exactly the same as those your participants experience.
Tip: Some groups are physically charged, filled with dynamic and lively people who love connecting and exchanging. But some groups lack energy. Here are ways to increase liveliness in low energy groups.
Tip: Tell stories. People are wired for stories. They create mental images visuals that help them remember and recall stories later. Best of all, stories impact their emotions and cause them to reflect more frequently on what they have heard.