Communication Strategies: Guidelines for Facilitating and Responding to Self-Disclosures

When someone discloses to you, it’s usually a sign of trust and affection. In carrying out this most important receiver function, keep the following five guidelines in mind.

Practice the skills of effective and active listening.
Listen actively, listen politely, listen for different levels of meaning, listen with empathy, and listen with an open mind. Express an understanding of the speaker’s feelings in order to give the speaker the opportunity to see his or her feelings more objectively and through the eyes of another. Ask questions to ensure your own understanding and to signal your interest and attention.

Support and reinforce the discloser.
Try to refrain from evaluation, concentrating on understanding and empathizing. Make your supportiveness clear to the discloser through your verbal and nonverbal responses; for example, maintain eye contact, lean toward the speaker, ask relevant questions, and echo the speaker’s thoughts and feelings.

Be willing to reciprocate.
Your own disclosures (made in response to the other person’s disclosures), demonstrate your understanding of the other’s meanings and your willingness to communicate on a meaningful level.

Keep the disclosures confidential.
If you reveal disclosures to others, negative effects are inevitable. It’s interesting to note that one of the netiquette rules of e-mail is that you shouldn’t forward mail to third parties without the writer’s permission. This rule is useful for self-disclosure generally: Maintain confidentiality; don’t pass on disclosures made to you to others without the person’s permission.

Don’t use the disclosures against the person.
Many self-disclosures expose vulnerability or weakness. If you later turn around and use a disclosure against the person, you betray the confidence and trust invested in you. Regardless of how angry you may get, resist the temptation to use the disclosures of others as weapons.


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