Tips on making people feel comfortable during an interview?

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Joined: 13 Sep 2009
Age: 32
Gender: Female
Posts: 9
Location: Philadelphia, PA

08 Jun 2011, 1:49 pm

hello, comrades–in–arms!

i’ve been a lurker here for a few years, but this is my first post…somehow…anyway.

so i’m currently halfway through the program at the cortiva institute—a massage therapy training school—and starting next semester [which begins july 11th], i’m going to be working four hours a week in the student clinic.

this entails conducting an interview with each client prior to performing massage. each interview has to establish rapport with and inspire trust/ease for the client—who is almost certainly a complete stranger—at the same time as i gather information like the client’s current complaints, their goals for the session, & any injuries/conditions/preferences that might change what techniques i can safely & comfortably perform during the session. and this must all be done in fifteen minutes AT MOST—more realistically, in five or ten minutes [since i have to wash my hands & wipe down my table & change the linens in the fifteen minutes allotted as well as conduct the interview].

conducting successful client interviews is BY FAR the greatest stumbling block for me in the program. i’m so accustomed to hiding my asperger’s by passing it off as me just being painfully shy & introverted—which works splendidly in most social situations; almost nobody picks up on the fact that i’m an aspie until i tell them [at which point my quirks make a lot more sense] or they’re specifically looking out for red flags like…complete inability to even look at somebody’s face, nevermind make eye contact. everybody just thinks i’m cute & shy & endearing & that’s grand.

but that’s a modus operandi that isn’t kosher when you’re in the position of being a therapist in the context of interacting with your client. there appears to be this…rule…that states when you are a therapist, you are in a position of authority, and it confuses & unsettles people when you don’t play the part. so i need to be assertive & securely confident—(i mean, it’s not that i suffer from any sort of lack of confidence in my ordinary form of interacting, but i speak insanely softly [if at all] & if you’re not listening to what i’m actually saying, for all intents&purposes it seems like i’m completely submissive, even tho’ the content of what i’m saying is typically borderline arrogant)—& kind of, just…i need to succeed in making the client feel like they can relax around me, that i’m trustworthy. & what’s more, i need to come off as somebody who’s empathetic & capable of understanding them & where they are emotionally that day, which i’m entirely capable of doing on a theoretical/intellectual level, buuut NTs are quite insensible to me at an emotional level except in the broadest, most general terms—hardly enough to qualify as personally tailored to any given unique individual’s particular…um…i don’t even know what to call it, but...whatever people are feeling when they aren’t alienated by somebody…? i guess? [i don’t know. everybody alienates me; the variations lie in the degree to which it’s made palpable.]

i’m so bad at understanding how i come off to people. i get such conflicting reports! complete strangers often choose me to talk to when asking for directions, or about buses, or stuff like that—& i often get into intimate conversations about waaay more honest/personal subjects than any NT would find appropriate for polite conversation on a subway—so i might think that means people find me approachable, & somehow trust-able—yet i also hear a lot about how utterly intimidating people find me, & it’s not unusual for people to be delighted to find out i don’t have anything against them. usually people think i’m experiencing far more frustration or annoyance or anger than i actually am [when in reality i’m experiencing much more mild, barely even remarkable instances of these reactions—i think maybe i’m so bad at facial expressions that i don’t know how to show emotion subtly, only in exaggeration?]—

in any case…basically…i was hoping for some advice on specific things i can be making a point of doing that reassure & relax NTs. make them feel like i’m friendly & that i like them [when typically i have no opinion of somebody until our interactions show something to like about them…i almost never actively dislike anybody; it’s more that there are some people who take longer than others to indicate anything likeable, & remain in that assessment–purgatory for weeks or months or years or for ever—ANYWAY]…i’m an awful liar, but i’m comfortable doing body language & stuff that will make them feel like i like them [even if i haven’t decided whether i like them or not, which will the be case for the vast majority of my clients]. so. i’m aware of things like:

  1. eye contact: which i’ve been working on for the past year, & i’ve gotten to the point where i can actually stand to look at a person’s nose for a few seconds straight [which most people seem to mistake as eye contact (yay!)]…don’t pretend to be busy writing notes or otherwise looking down at my clipboard;
  2. firm handshake;
  3. make sure you sit down next to them, not in front of them or remain standing while talking to them;
  4. angle yr body towards them while seated. avoid crossing legs, but if i must, cross my legs so the knee on top is facing the client [so if client is sitting to my left, my right leg is on top];
  5. sit up straight; don’t slouch or otherwise look downtrodden/stressed or afraid or tense or nervous.
  6. reiterate what the client tells you in yr own words to show them you understand what they said & are actively listening to the information they’re giving you. ...don’t just say variations of uh huh or (ahaha) nothing at all.
  7. keep my hands visible...don’t hide in pockets, behind clipboard, in folds of skirt; makes people think you’ve something to hide & distrust you.
  8. remember to smile back at the client whenever s/he smiles.
  9. don’t wiggle knees or tap pen. or chew on pen. or raise an eyebrow [or two] unduly.

that’s all i can think of.

SO: are there any other tricks that anybody else has discovered makes a big difference? or does anybody have any books/manuals/instructional videos [! that’d be amazing!] that they’d recommend i take a look at for understanding more subtle body language/signals that i should be making sure i do [or don’t do!] while interacting with clients? i’ve tried posting similar enquiries on forums for massage therapists/somatic practitioners, but i only got a few replies to those & none of them were useful…i don’t think it’s a question i can really get useful answers to from neurotypicals.

…but, yes. pleasepleaseplease do tell if you’ve got anything—i really want to be good at this, ’cause i’m great at actually giving massages & understanding anatomy/physiology & how tissue reacts to different types of contact—in other words, the pith/gist/nub/heart of what being a massage therapist entails—

—but the whole talking–to–the–client before&after the fun part? it’s is so stressful for me. i can handle social interactions when it’s okay to play the part of the shy bookish girl—take that security blanket away, tho’...& i’m completely at a loss & it’s so intensely stressful that even when i [supposedly] do just fine when we roleplay mock–interviews in class, i end up having stress–induced seizures as soon as the roleplay is over & i can slip out of the classroom & lock myself up in the bathroom alone. [i have temporal lobe epilepsy, & my seizures are almost always stress–induced, & i usually only have them once or twice a year—but i’ve been having them like clockwork after every mock–interview class we’ve had. i don’t want to still be dealing with that by the time i start working in the real student clinic with real clients—three in a row, fifteen minutes between each. good god. i need to get this under control before july 11th.

this situation is honestly the only time i’ve found being an aspie to be any sort of issue since beginning school in january. [tho’ i had to fight really hard to be admitted into the program…the president of the school was aware of two other aspies ever having tried to become MTs, & one of them dropped out after a month & the other graduated but was so bad at interacting with clients & coworkers nobody would hire her & last they’d heard she was a checkout clerk at a big grocery store…the administration was really, really hesitant to even let me try the program. worst prejudice against folks on the spectrum i’ve ever encountered, tho’ i suppose their worries were somewhat well–founded…still, i shouldn’t’ve had to fight tooth&nail to even be admitted just because i couldn’t look at people’s faces during conversation.]

OKAY. like usual, i have typed WAY TOO MUCH, which is a roundabout way of explaining via praxis how it is that i joined the forum in 2009…& this is the first time i’ve ever posted a damn thing here. (please forgive me. it’s intractable.)

kindest regards,

p.s. yaaay you made it to the bottom of this post! obviously, you possess mad intrepid scrolling skillz. :D

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Joined: 14 Nov 2010
Age: 33
Gender: Male
Posts: 2,034
Location: Where the wild things wish they were

08 Jun 2011, 4:02 pm

Massage them during the interview, then ask them tough questions. You will probably get the truth.

Sea Gull
Sea Gull

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Joined: 27 Apr 2011
Age: 50
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Posts: 210

08 Jun 2011, 7:08 pm

Be sure to ask them about themselves (and act interested in the answers) so things like "what do you do for a living?" or other innocuous questions will get them to start talking. If they have a shirt, pair of shoes, pants, hat, handbag, piece of jewelry or other accouterments that you like or find interesting mention it.

Try making a joke if you can think of a funny one. I use (and overuse) this method a lot. For instance, I live in Phoenix and in the summer I often will tell people that I was worried I would have to wear a sweater outside (it is usually 105+ degrees).

Mention something neutral on the news... and by neutral I mean non-political or controversial. Commenting on a major fire destroying people's homes is okay; liking/disliking the President is not okay.

And Mindslave's tip is similar to one that will work in your situation which is touching them in some comfortable way on the shoulder, elbow... wherever that does not feel invasive. It will help put them at ease.


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Joined: 14 Nov 2010
Age: 33
Gender: Male
Posts: 340

11 Jun 2011, 8:02 pm

hmm... another good option would be to offer the client a drink with relaxing properties, for example a small cup of tea. Tea relaxes the mind and body before the massage, while the gesture in itself makes the client feel more comfortable.

A good tea to serve could be green tea, due to its quick preparation, especially if it's in powder form, just make sure to prepare a thermo of hot water once in a while :)


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Joined: 10 Feb 2008
Age: 39
Gender: Female
Posts: 2,047
Location: Ireland, dreaming of Germany

13 Jun 2011, 2:38 am

Make sure your inflection is appropriate. I apparently seemed to be very unsecure and laking self-esteem by doing an upspeak kind of inflection when I spoke. After I got that sorted out, I was considered much more self-assured.

Apart from that: avoid subjunctives in speech and show empathy.

I am not a native speaker. Please contact me if I made grammatical mistakes in the posting above.

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