Communication is the foundation of therapeutic relationships. Only by listening and speaking with authority can massage therapists contribute to their clients’ wellness. A skillful give and take are not only essential for successful treatment; they’re the key to building a loyal customer base and a rewarding career.
Characteristics of Effective Communication
Communication with clients is a two-way street, but as wellness professionals, massage therapists should take the lead. The person communicating is responsible for the interpretation of what they say and how it is received. Massage therapists can enhance the power of their messages by ensuring they’re concise, concrete, courteous, timely, and correct.
Concise messages are brief and to the point. While not forgoing the friendly chit chat that establishes a certain comfort between clients and massage therapists, essential points should be condensed. Eliminating redundant or irrelevant information helps the client focus. Brief explanations of the types of massage a therapist offers, for example, narrow down the choices and makes decision-making easier.
Concrete messages go beyond written or spoken words. They appeal to a broad range of senses and learning styles. When massage therapists discuss the benefits of massage, the use of props such as charts, models and video presentations reinforce the message. They appeal to visual, auditory and tactile learners alike and enhance their overall learning experience.
Communication has emotional facets. Today’s massage therapists will work with clients from diverse cultural backgrounds, each with unique expectations. Considering a client’s age and background helps massage therapists frame conversation in a respectful and engaging way, opening the door to a natural two-way dialogue.
Therapeutic relationships are built on trust. When a client reaches out to their massage therapist, timely responses establish reliability. Returning phone calls and email is a must as well as approaching clients with helpful information when necessary. Letting regular customers know when a vacation is approaching is one example.
Spelling and grammatical errors detract from the credibility of communication. Messages should always reflect a massage therapist’s education and professional status. If a client imagines a massage while reviewing an ill-written brochure, they’ll assume the massage therapist will be equally careless and move on.
Types of Communication
Massage therapists use different methods of communication to relate to customers and to connect with the community through advertising. Massage therapists use verbal, written, and non-verbal communication.
The term verbal communication refers to spoken words, usually a person-to-person chat or a conversation over the telephone. Whether clients call or visit, it’s the most common type of interaction for massage therapists.
Verbal communication skills to master include confidence, humility and authenticity. Mirroring clients in their rate and tone of speech improves their comfort with a conversation.
Written communication comes in many forms, texts, e-mails, social media posts, brochures, letters, advertising, and teaching materials.
Qualities that make written words appealing to clients include simplicity, avoiding jargon and technical terms, and an easy-to-follow conversational tone. Sloppy grammar, spelling and punctuation reflects poorly on the writer. Proofreading really matters.
Non-verbal communication is a way of conveying emotion using body language. Gestures, posture and facial expressions can say more than words alone. But while body language can be used to make a point, it’s more often something people do subconsciously, and if the message is negative, the results can be disastrous.
Almost all communication is nonverbal. Making eye contact, for example, demonstrates caring and focus. Avoiding it suggests disinterest or guilt. Clients take cues from the body language they observe, so for a massage therapist, it pays to be aware of the signals they convey. A warm smile and a relaxed but upright posture can set the mood for a successful session.
With Whom Do Massage Therapists Communicate?
Massage therapists communicate with a wide range of people in both the therapeutic and business parts of their practice. They speak with clients, colleagues, managers, vendors, and communities.
Massage therapists communicate with clients before, during and after a massage. Each point of contact is an opportunity to connect and inform.
It begins by making an impression through advertising and promotional materials and continues when the client visits in person or makes an appointment over the phone. Massage therapists use their skills to gather the health information needed to create a treatment plan while communicating their professional expertise.
During the session, massage therapists communicate based on the client’s preference and therapeutic goals. Silence is relaxing if the objective is stress relief, but chit-chat could be preferable if the intent is to invigorate. It’s always critical, however, to ensure that massage therapy is achieving its goals. Massage therapists should ask clients if their techniques are hitting the mark.
A massage therapist at a spa or resort may work with dozens of colleagues, each with a different communication style. However, while it’s true that birds of a feather flock together, it’s important for everyone to get along.
A massage therapist’s relationship with coworkers can make or break their practice. Squabbles create workplace tension, leading to lost customers and staff. Getting along and working together generates a soothing atmosphere and sets the stage for mutual referrals. Constructive professional relationships benefit everyone.
Managers serve as leaders in multi-therapist practices, and like colleagues, they have unique ways of communicating.
Charged with the financial health of the business, they may make decisions that are not always popular. Massage therapists should communicate regularly with managers to stay on the same page, addressing concerns promptly and respectfully. Coordination is critical.
Massage therapists with private practices work order their supplies with a vendor. Building rapport through mutual trust can lead to more favorable terms.
Massage therapists shouldn’t underestimate their impact on their communities. As wellness professionals, they’re ideally positioned to serve as resources. Outreach in the form of public service is a type of mutually beneficial communication. Examples of outreach opportunities for massage therapists include offering adult education classes and hosting informal seminars on the benefits of massage. It’s a way to establish a good reputation and meet potential clients.
What Role Does Communication Play in Massage Therapy?
Communication is a give and take. Massage therapists use their skills as communicators to promote themselves and to help clients better articulate their needs using professionalism, comfort, customer service, assessment, education and discretion.
Professionalism means living up to clients’ expectations. The American Massage Therapy Association (AMTA) believes this concept is so important that it has created a code of ethics for the industry.
What does it say about communication? It requires massage therapists to:
- Follow all regulatory requirements for the state in which they’re licensed.
- Promote only those services for which they have the education and training.
- Advertise honestly.
- Avoid engaging in activities that may violate clients’ rights, including confidentiality.
Professionalism is also expected in dress, demeanor and attitude. Each is a form of communication and says something loud and clear about a massage therapist. It should always say something positive and authentic.
A comfortable conversation can only occur when someone feels at ease. From the point of initial contact, it’s up to a massage therapist to make their clients feel relaxed. Relaxation enhances communication, which in turn builds rapport and trust. Clients who feel uncomfortable interacting for the first time with a massage therapist are unlikely to schedule services or ever come back.
Customers consistently rate service over price as their top criterion for choosing a massage therapist. Not surprisingly, their definition of “service” encompasses communication, prompt replies to inquiries and a friendly attitude as top the list of must-haves. Lack of personal attention and indifference to special requests are clients’ biggest pet peeve.
Massage therapy is a holistic art. More than a treatment, it’s an experience, any communication from the massage therapist should be a positive, affirming contribution.
Assessing what the client wants and needs is paramount to a successful massage. Some people seek bodywork solely for stress relief while others want a targeted massage to heal an injury or reduce musculoskeletal pain.
While massage therapy is generally well-tolerated, there are medical considerations. A client on blood-thinning drugs, for example, will bruise easily, requiring a light touch and a gentle style of massage.
Before the first session with a new client, a massage therapist reviews their medical conditions and therapy goals. It requires a frank discussion and active listening, focusing on what the client says out loud as well what their body language suggests.
Most clients undress for massages, and for some, there are body image concerns, such as weight and scars. Courteous communication, making an effort to see barriers from the client’s point of view, is necessary to gain their confidence.
Clients seeking massage are usually aware of some of its many benefits. They may have been referred by a doctor or a friend, but they rely on a massage therapist’s professional advice in choosing the most effective type of massage and how often to have them.
Massage therapists are educators at heart. They listen to clients and help them understand what to expect from a session from start to finish.
Massage therapists aren’t bound by the same confidentiality laws as healthcare providers, but there are few circumstances short of cooperating with law enforcement officials that would justify divulging clients’ names without permission. In the personal service industry, it’s essential to protect clients’ privacy.
Communicating with Clients During a Massage
Experts agree, the amount of verbal communication that occurs during a massage should be based on the client’s preferences. Beyond that, professionals have different thoughts on how much talking is too much.
The unwritten rule is to converse as little as possible because, for clients who process emotions via touch, speaking can disrupt the process. They prefer to feel the benefits of massage.
However, select clients like to chat occasionally, letting their thoughts flow freely, while others need the constant drone of conversation to feel comfortable. The best way for massage therapists to approach the issue is to ask in advance, or simply respond to physical and verbal cues.
Communication is both an art and a science. Ideas are only valuable to clients if they’re articulated clearly, yet conversation should be approached skillfully and with sensitivity. Loyal clients are those who feel both heard and understood.
Want to Learn More?
Do you have the communication skills to be a successful massage therapist? If you are interested in the healing powers of massage, you can begin your career in massage therapy at Minnesota School of Cosmetology. Our short-term massage therapy training program is designed to be completed in as little as 5 months with full time enrollment*. Our massage therapy training program is designed as a holistic program that will prepare students to focus on body mechanics of their clients as well as develop positive habits for the therapist. Together, those two areas will provide a foundation that can lead to longevity in the career field.
Contact us today to learn more about becoming a massage therapist and starting a rewarding career in the massage industry.
*Completion time for this program is defined by 35 hours per week.