Friday, 23 July 2021

Micro-skills in career practice

Micro-skills are “specific and observable communication units” (Ivey & Daniels, 2016, p. 100). Micro-skills include both verbal and non-verbal communication. They are used in professional exchanges between us, occurring - in our context - when supervisors and supervisees are responding to client communications, by: 

  • Clarifying; 
  • Summarising; and 
  • Encouraging further discussion (Ivey & Daniels, 2016). 
As we become more experienced as career practitioners, we exhibit micro-skills often without even pausing to think about how, why, when and where we use them. How we demonstrate micro-skills in practice is as follows (Laurenson, 2021): 

  1. Basic listening sequence (BLS), or 'attending' behaviour, which includes eye contact is crucial for establishing empathy, and building trust 
  2. Congruence, or being aware of our internal experience AND transparent communication of what is going on within (Greenberg & Geller, 2001), is essential in building trust 
  3. Both cognitive and affective empathy - i.e. the ability to recognise and understand a client's mental state, and the ability to share client feelings without direct practitioner emotional stimulation (Kerr-Gaffney et al., 2019) - are important characteristics of trusting relationships 
  4. Physical stillness demonstrates effective listening 
  5. Open questions, collaborative building of goals, flexibility, adaptability, and clear boundaries around the limits of confidentiality are signs of professionalism and ethical practice.

It is worth us all taking a moment to consider where we are strong, and where we can make deliberate improvements to our practice. 



  • Greenberg, L. S., & Geller, S. (2001). Chapter 9 Congruence and therapeutic presence. In G. Wyatt (Ed.) Rogers’ therapeutic conditions: Evolution, theory and practice (Vol 1, Congruence) (pp. 131-149). PCCS Books. 
  • Ivey, A. E., & Daniels, T. (2016). Systematic interviewing microskills and neuroscience: Developing bridges between the fields of communication and counseling psychology. International Journal of Listening, 30(3), 99-119.
  • Kerr-Gaffney, J., Harrison, A., & Tchanturia, K. (2019). Cognitive and affective empathy in eating disorders: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Frontiers in Psychiatry, 10(102), 1-15.
  • Laurenson, R. (2021). Micro-skills in practice [course materials]. NMIT.

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