Case Management & Coaching

Module 3.2: Building a Trusting Relationship with Participants

Research shows that when you cultivate a close, personal connection with program participants, you can have a significant impact on their lives and position them for better outcomes.

While you can and should develop your own style of communicating with participants, there are several strategies that you can incorporate into interactions with participants to build trusting and strong relationships.

Findings indicate that, other things being equal, earnings effects are increased by… an emphasis on personalized client attention...”


Hence the finding strongly suggests that personalized attention can make a big difference for clients above and beyond whatever services they receive and above and beyond other features of a program and its environment.”


Read Full Article. "Linking Program Implementation and Effectiveness: Lessons from a Pooled Sample of Welfare-to-Work Experiments". Howard S. Bloom Carolyn J. Hill James A. Riccio

FSS © 2017 | U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development

Use Client-Centered, Effective Interviewing Techniques to Learn More About an FSS Participant’s Situation

  • Ask open-ended questions to learn more
  • Avoid judgements, verbal and nonverbal
  • Pay attention to participants’ body language and whether it aligns with their words

Advanced client-centered case management and coaching techniques such as Motivational Interviewing can be used to identify and enhance participants’ intrinsic motivation to set and make progress toward their self-sufficiency goals. A case manager/coach trained in the evidence-based practice of Motivational Interviewing starts from the assumption that clients are creative, resourceful, and experts on their own lives. A practitioner using Motivational Interviewing adheres to the technique’s four core principles, as described in the report linked below (click the arrows to expand the content):

 Read Full Report. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) (2010). Spotlight on PATH practices and programs: Motivational Interviewing. Rockville, MD: Center for Mental Health Services, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.

Watch this video on Motivational Interviewing.

Develop a Comfortable Rapport

  • Think of the participant as a partner with whom you are working to achieve shared goals
  • Consider asking the participant to call you by your first name
  • Match the tone and tempo of the participant’s speech and body language and stay engaged in the conversation

Listen Actively

  • Re-state what participants tell you to affirm your engagement and confirm that your interpretation is correct
  • Ask questions if you don’t understand anything or are unclear
  • Offer your own reflections on what the participant has shared and the pros and cons of proposed approaches to meeting goals

Watch this video on active listening.

Motivate, Support, and Empower Participants

  • Remain non-judgmental, respectful, and supportive of participants’ choices, even as they change goals or plans
  • Focus on successes, not setbacks
  • Remind participants that they are their own best resource

Watch this video on supporting and empowering participants.

Remember that some participants have never had anyone to tell them that they can succeed. It may not sound like much, but for someone who is leaving an abusive relationship or working to overcome an addiction, that kind of support and encouragement can be a very big deal.

You need to be trustworthy, you need to listen, and you need to hear what they say, not impose your values on them, because we're all different, and we all need to have our own values. . . They're going to succeed... by living their values.”

Michele Haupt, FSS Coordinator, Sioux City Housing Authority, Sioux City, IA

Consider the Following Scenario: What Would You Do?

In a goal-setting meeting, a new participant tells you that her long-term goal is to graduate from a four-year college. You can tell from her body language and lack of elaboration that she is not passionate about this goal, but is likely just telling you what she thinks you want to hear.

Here are some suggestions on how you might respond.

  • Acknowledge and encourage her interest in pursuing additional education.
  • Ask open-ended questions to get further detail on why she is interested in additional education.
  • Help her think through interim goals that would be required before enrolling in a four-year college and the associated timeframe to determine if this goal is realistic (building savings, taking college admissions exams, applying to schools, securing financial aid, etc.).
  • Help her understand the full range of options for post-secondary education so she can make an informed decision about which option to pursue at this time.
  • Be open to a pivot in her vision once you start exploring further.

Please complete this quiz before you proceed to the next module. To take the quiz, use the arrow keys or click the correct answer choice. If you answer incorrectly, you will be able to try again until you select the correct response.
Scores will not be recorded.

1. What should an FSS coordinator do if a participant wishes to set a goal that the coordinator believes is unlikely to be achievable during the timeframe of the FSS program?

A - Advise the participant that the goal is not feasible in the program timeframe and ask him or her to choose a new goal.Incorrect.FSS coordinators should allow participants to make their own decisions. There are other steps that an FSS coordinator can take to help participants determine whether their goals are realistic—namely, breaking down the steps and timeframe needed to achieve the goal and discussing whether these steps can realistically be permitted during the permitted FSS term.B - Break down the steps and timeframe needed to achieve the goal and discuss with the participant whether these steps can realistically be achieved during the permitted FSS term.Correct!This approach allows FSS participants to reach their own well-informed decisions about goal-setting. The coordinator may be able to help the participant identify milestones toward the participant’s desired goal that could feasibly be achieved during the term of the FSS program.C - Don’t do anything. The participant will figure it out eventually.Incorrect.While it is important to allow FSS participants to make their own choices and decisions, the FSS coordinator is there to provide support and help participants succeed. There are steps that an FSS coordinator can take to help participants understand the challenges involved in setting an ambitious goal that may be unrealistic to achieve during the timeframe of the FSS program.

2. Which of the following techniques is recommended to build strong relationships with FSS participants?

A - Motivational interviewing.Partially correct.While this technique is recommended, all of the approaches listed here may be useful in building strong relationships with participants.B - Asking a participant to call you by your first name.Partially correct.While this technique is recommended, all of the approaches listed here may be useful in building strong relationships with participants.C - Active listening.Partially correct.While this technique is recommended, all of the approaches listed here may be useful in building strong relationships with participants.D - All of the above.Correct!All of these approaches can help to develop rapport and motivate, support, and empower your client.

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