I've heard in the past that it is not possible to build rapport with a subject through text and the goal is to try and convince the person to pick up the phone.
That is simply not true. You can build rapport via text messaging.
Is it harder to build rapport via texting with a person in crisis compared to face to face or via the phone? Sure, at least initially without any practice or training.
What am I basing this on? Crisis Text Line has exchanged more than 75 million messages in the past five years with people in crisis all via text messaging. With that massive amount of messages, it provides a massive amount of data. Fortunately it also provides some tips for us on how best to communicate with someone in crisis via texting.
One thing to keep in mind is if communicating via text is what the subject feel most comfortable with, do we want to repeatedly try to convince them to use another mode of communication?
To put it into perspective, if we are taught not to continually ask the person to come out and talk face to face (really surrender) when talking with a subject on the phone, why would we continually ask the subject to answer the phone continually via text messaging? Instead, the same process of slowing it down is used by crisis counselors similarly to what crisis negotiators use.
From the article:
The four key skills used by CC’s (crisis counselors) are validating, strength ID’s, empathetic responses, and paraphrasing. Keep in mind each message is a maximum of 160 characters so each message a CC sends has to be well thought and concise. A Crisis Counselor also has to be cool under pressure as in some instances the person can be suicidal. The job of a Crisis Counselor is clearly not for everyone.
Validating: This lets the texter know that it is ok to be feeling what they are feeling. This could include a variety of emotions such as stress, anger, devastation, or feeling overwhelmed or abandoned. The CC tells them it is normal to feel that way based on what they are experiencing. The only way to get that information from them is by using questions that are not judging or accusatory but rather frequently open-ended. This invites them to share what is going on.
“It’s understandable you’re feeling stressed with all these deadlines looming.”
Read more about each of the above skills and how it can apply to your work [HERE].