Carl Rogers on improving relationships
This movement gave rise to the concept of putting the person, the learner, the client, the customer at the centre of things.
Anyone trained in psychotherapy or counselling today will doubtless be familiar with the ‘Rogerian’ or ‘person centred’ approach to helping others.
Rogers (who died in 1987) was a man who wrote a great deal on the art of relating and effective communications.
He was philosophical about it too. His standpoint stems from a belief in the innate goodness of life, the positive uniqueness and creative power of each person.
Each person is at the centre of their own world and for him, ‘no one, no matter how hard he or she tries can ever completely assume another person’s internal frame of reference’.
That said, he also held that all living things naturally strive towards self-fulfilment. He calls this the actualising tendency.Carl Rogers on improving relationships
Rogers sees this actualising tendency operating at all levels of life and gives a simple account of it in one of his books, On Personal Power where, drawing on memories of his childhood home, he writes about what happened to a bin of potatoes left over winter in the basement – several feet from a small window:
‘The conditions were unfavourable but the potatoes would begin to sprout – pale white sprouts, so unlike the healthy green shoots they sent up when planted in the soil in spring – but these spindly sprouts would grow two or three feet in length as they reached for the distant light of the window’.
The point being that clearly these potatoes were not going to fulfil their full potential in these conditions, but yet by the act of being alive they were taking a good shot at it.
Naturally, he argues, this actualising tendency is precious to ourselves. In this example too it is easy to see the potatoes story as a metaphor for the constraints we may, more than we realise, place upon ourselves and others.
From Rogers’ viewpoint, if we can begin to accept the magic and potential in this concept then we are moving towards his ‘person centred’ vision.
Three steps or conditions for good Human Relationships
As an integral part of this vision, Rogers sets out three conditions or ‘arts’ that he sees as essential to productive relationships.
Admittedly these are aimed at the therapy environment but I think you will find they no less apply as good practice in any type of relationship we have with each other. These are Genuineness, Acceptance and Empathy.
Genuineness is the art of being honest with ourselves and others. It means that in our interactions with others we endeavour to be ‘straight’ without props, facades or games.
Let’s face it, this can be challenging enough to get to grips with in what we take to be ‘close’ relationships let alone in say customer transactions, where a professional ‘can do’ response is the expectation, and may in some circumstances be less than genuine, accurate or even helpful.
But the rule here is if we are offering a service or making promises, we genuinely take them on as commitments, stick by them and follow through until done.
Acceptance is the art of accepting others for themselves – avoiding preconceived judgements. Rogers also calls this ‘unconditional positive regard’ for the other person.
In our interactions with people it requires an attitude of prizing the other person to the best of our ability regardless of the concern, requirement or viewpoint he or she might bring to the table.
Empathy is the art of nurturing understanding and empathy towards the other person.
This boils down to putting ourself in the other person’s shoes, plus a dollop of actually caring about them – we treat others as we would wish others to treat us – nothing new in that but… well easier to say than put into practice.
Rogers calls these necessary conditions, ‘arts’, because they require skill and work to get right – not something one can just switch on. Even so he believes that if one can get these conditions into balance, relationships can only improve.
No one is suggesting these three conditions exhaust all ideas for improving relations here but I hope you will agree that they touch upon the heart of the matter.
One can overlay relationships, customer or otherwise, with a raft of sophisticated professional devices to supposedly improve and or measure performance but overlook core conditions such as these and one can be a million miles from getting it right for the person, client or customer, you are interacting with.