Over my many years of supervising VIG trainees I have reflected on the vast range of skills VIG guiders develop as they support their clients to achieve their hopes for better attunement. In this article I will examine one of these skills, which I have named ‘attuned interrupting’, first setting it in its context by describing the background to VIG and VERP. Attuned interrupting is a respectful way to establish a meaningful dialogue between partners, with the result that they are both taking short turns, listening to each other and contributing equally to the reflective process of building a shared understanding.
What is VIG? What is VERP?
Video Interaction Guidance (VIG) is a therapeutic intervention for bringing about change in important relationships, wherever these occur – in the home, school, hospital, clinic, care setting and so on. It is a strengths-based approach, whereby video of day-to-day interactions is micro-analysed to find tiny moments where things are going better than usual. VIG guider and client then discuss these clips together in a ‘shared review’ meeting, reflecting together on what the client had done to bring this about (and hence what is already in their natural style), so that they can consciously do more of it. (See Kennedy, Landor & Todd 2011.) Video Enhanced Reflective Practice (VERP) is an approach that stems from VIG and shares the same core values and beliefs, theoretical and psychological underpinnings and basic methodology. VERP has professional development as its purpose and is used throughout education, health, social work and the voluntary and independent sectors. (See Kennedy, Landor & Todd 2015.)
Intersubjectivity and the origin of the ‘Principles of attuned interactions and guidance’ framework
The framework used when selecting the video clips is derived from research into intersubjectivity carried out by Professor Colwyn Trevarthen from the 1970s onwards (e.g. Trevarthen 1979). Intersubjectivity refers to “…the interactions between two people as they negotiate meaning and intent. It is an innate human capacity, preverbal, dyadic and dialogic in nature…” (Landor 2015). This framework is called the ‘Principles of attuned interactions and guidance’ (PAIG) (Association of Video Interaction Guidance UK (AVIGuk)). As Simpson (2014) describes in his article about the origins of VIG in the UK, Harrie Biemans (1990), a Dutch psychologist, developed the first version of this framework as the cornerstone of the Netherlands ‘SPIN’ intervention (loosely translated as ‘Intensive home training organisation’), on which model the UK version, Video Interaction Guidance (VIG), was based.
In a VIG or VERP training course, participants may be asked to watch a short video of a pair interacting (e.g. parent and baby, teacher and pupil, nurse and patient), and to analyse what it is that the key adult is doing to attune themselves to the other. It always happens that the list they come up with closely matches the ‘Principles of attuned interactions and guidance’ (PAIG) framework, thus showing that we can all recognise what attuned interactions actually look like and what are their constituent elements.
Hierarchical nature of the ‘Principles of attuned interactions and guidance’ framework
What differentiates the PAIG framework from the loose collection of behaviours which participants name is its hierarchical organisation. The first building block (being attentive, and encouraging and receiving initiatives) establishes the relationship and lays the foundation for successful intersubjective ‘attuned interactions’, which in turn lead on to the higher order skills (teaching and learning, behaviour management, conflict resolution, etc.). One of the main teachings of VIG and VERP is that in any interaction we will not be effective if we home straight in on the higher order skills without first establishing those underpinning relationship-building skills. Engaging in these basic behaviours (of being attentive and encouraging and receiving initiatives) will naturally lead on to a period of sustained ‘attuned interaction’, which is characterised by the participants, for example: receiving what the other has said and then responding; checking the other is understanding them; waiting attentively for their turn; having fun together; giving a second and further turn on the same topic; giving and taking short turns; contributing equally to the interaction or activity; cooperating and helping each other (Kennedy, Landor & Todd 2011). Once this ‘attuned interaction’ is established, the two interaction partners are in synchrony and can readily engage in deeper discussion of difficult or more complex issues.
Core precepts, values and beliefs in VIG and VERP
One of the prime relationship-building skills is what in VIG is known as ‘receiving’. One person has ‘received’ the other’s initiative when they show, through their body language, through matching or containment of the other’s emotions, and through verbal summarising, that they have fully heard and understood their interaction partner, before they go on to give their own view.
This is another important precept of VIG – that the key adult should ‘follow’ the other’s initiative. It is a misconception that ‘following’ the other person necessarily means agreeing with or giving in to them. If a person thinks that you are not agreeing with them because you haven’t understood how they feel or what they believe, they will continue to make their point more forcefully, or else may give up and withdraw from the interaction. If on the other hand it has been made clear by your ‘receiving’ that you have fully understood them and still hold a different point of view, they begin to listen to what you are saying. Being ‘received’ in the VIG sense has a powerful impact and leads to those higher order interaction skills of teaching and learning, conflict resolution and so on.
These core precepts of VIG are rooted in the AVIGuk system of values and beliefs (Kennedy, Landor & Todd 2105):
- Our Values
- Respect Trust Hope
- Compassion Co-operation Appreciation
- Connections Empathy
- Our beliefs
- Everybody is doing the best they can at the time
- All people, even in adverse situations, have the capacity to change
- People have an innate desire to connect with others
- People must be actively involved in their own change process
- Affirmation and appreciation of strengths is the key to supporting change
- Recognition and empathetic regard for what people are managing builds trust
The skills required for establishing a pattern of ‘attuned interactions’
A VIG guider will practise many skills to help their clients develop their capacity for equally shared ‘attuned interactions’. Firstly, they will model the principles of attuned interactions and guidance (PAIG) themselves in all their dealings with their client. (When training in VIG their supervisor will also model the PAIG with them; VIG is a nested model of intervention where the PAIG underpin VIG practice at every level.) Secondly, when carrying out a ‘shared review’ with their client, the VIG guider will follow a VIG ‘seven steps’ model, which is described in detail below. At every step the VIG guider sensitively adjudges whether they should ‘activate’ (give space, encourage, prompt, review the video etc.) or ‘compensate’ (give information which may move the client on in their thinking). Thus it can be seen that VIG guidance is a skilful art, rather than a manualised or scripted intervention.
Attuned interrupting: What and why?
Once successfully achieved ‘attuned interaction’ is easily recognisable – it can sometimes be characterised by the two people being so in tune with each other’s thinking that they finish each other’s sentences. As a VIG guider, trainer and supervisor of many years’ standing, I find that a skill which I have named ‘attuned interrupting’ is an invaluable tool in the development of attuned interactions, and I believe it is not described elsewhere. It is a way of interrupting long turns in an attuned and respectful way in order to help establish a more equal turn-taking pattern. If one person does most of the talking, neither of them has the opportunity to develop their thinking, and they will finish the conversation unchanged in their opinions. The talker has only heard their own espoused view, without any different contribution to trigger fresh thought, to challenge or to develop the argument. The listener has had no chance to pose their queries, or to disagree, or to develop their own thinking process; they may perhaps think they agree at the time, but often realise afterwards that they have forgotten parts or not fully grasped the other’s argument, because they had no active part in its construction.
‘Attuned interrupting’ of your own long turn
It can sometimes be difficult to interrupt your own longer turn, especially if your interaction partner finds it difficult to speak in this situation, or seems to want you to take the lead or to give advice. It may be helpful to consider the second of the core frameworks used in VIG, the ‘Seven steps to attuned interactions and guidance in the shared review’ (Kennedy, Landor & Todd 2011) which I mentioned earlier; I am thinking especially of the point where the guider is asked to be ‘mindful’ of how they are feeling at that point with their interaction partner. It is by doing this that one may recognise if one is being pushed into a complementary position of defensiveness, advice-giving, parenting, and so on, and can consciously decide to take an alternative role if necessary.
The key elements of the Seven steps transfer to any discussion, not only to the VIG-specific ‘shared review’, as can seen from my summary:
- Name what you about to do and explain the purpose, briefly, sharing any evidence or data
- Give the first turn to the other person, by asking a simple, open question
- Observe and give them space, or thinking time
- ‘Receive’ the response explicitly (see above); be mindful of how you are feeling; then take a short turn to give your own thoughts or to build on the other’s response
- Check how they have understood what you’ve said and help them to think further about it
- ‘Attuned interaction’ is characterised by short turns from each making it clear they are in tune with each other’s thinking
- Following this a deeper discussion of thoughts, feelings and new narratives about self and important relationships can be developed
- At every step you sensitively judge whether you need to give a little support or information, or whether you should tap into their own resources by asking an activating question or by reviewing the evidence or data again (in the case of a VIG shared review this is the video).
If even with following the Seven steps it is still difficult to encourage the other to take equal turns, the first elements of the Principles of attuned interactions and guidance (PAIG) may be helpful. If you are attentive (e.g. looking interested, turning towards, maintaining friendly intonation and posture, giving time and space, wondering about their actions, thoughts and feelings) the other person feels they are ‘held’, recognised and valued. You can encourage them to begin to make initiatives by waiting, listening, showing warmth, and tentatively naming the actions, thoughts and feelings of each of you. Developing these core VIG guiding skills can take time and practice, which is why VIG training follows a supervision model.
‘Attuned interrupting’ of your interaction partner’s long turn
If your interaction partner is habitually taking long turns, you can break in, politely, and take a short turn yourself. The way you break in will probably involve a range of behaviours, both non-verbal and verbal. Some will be physical, such as:
- taking an obvious breath as a precursor to speech,
- leaning forward slightly,
- using eye contact and facial expression to signal to the other that you want to come in,
- even holding up a finger or a hand to ask them to pause.
Your verbal turn will then relate to what they are saying and show them that you value what they’re saying and that you’re trying to understand better. Beginning your interruption by naming what you’re doing and why is helpful; for example:
- ‘Sorry I’d like to stop you there just for a moment…’
- ‘I just want to check that I’ve understood you properly…’
- ‘You’ve said so many interesting things that I need to make sure I’m grasping them all…’
- ‘Sorry for interrupting you, but am I right that you’re saying x, y, z?…’
There are many other useful phrases to help you break in to a long turn; what is important is to choose something that fits well with your natural style and personality:
- “Can I just say something here?
- Can I stop you there for a moment?
- Can I just butt in for a second?
- Can I just mention something?
- Can I just add something here?
- Do you mind if I come in here?
- Before you move on, I’d like to say something.
- Before you go on, I’d like to say something.
- Excuse me for interrupting but……
- Excuse me for butting in but…..
- Sorry for interrupting but….
- Just a moment, I’d like to….
- If I could just come in here. I think….” (British English Coach 2014)
It is important that the turn you take is short and that you then immediately give them the conversational lead back, so that the pattern of long turn-taking is not perpetuated. You may need to use ‘attuned interrupting’ several times in succession to gently establish a shorter turn-taking pattern. Then once this pattern is established the use of activating questions, or going back to give the video another turn if in a ‘shared review’, can help your interaction partner develop deeper reflection.
Sometimes it may be that in their long turn the speaker drifts back to the dominant negative narrative; in VIG shared reviews the best kind of ‘attuned interrupting’ may be to firstly receive what they’re saying and then to return to the video clip, by linking their thoughts back to the ‘exception to the usual’ which the clip exemplifies. You might say: ‘Ok so if I understood you rightly you’re saying that x y z usually happens; and here in this video clip we saw a b c, which is really different. Let’s go back and watch it a few times and try and work out what it was that you did that made it happen differently there.’
Guiding in VIG or VERP is an art made up of varied skills, which the trainee guider develops over time with the support of their supervisor. Each VIG / VERP guider adopts their own typical utterances and mannerisms that suit their personality. ‘Attuned interrupting’ may be adapted in many different ways to achieve the core element of VIG and VERP – attuned interactions. I have seen it used to great effect by guiders facilitating a VIG shared review with a client or with a professional in a VERP session. My hope is that others may begin to experiment with the respectful skill of ‘attuned interrupting’, and share their experiences, as I believe it can be generalised to many situations.
nb This article underwent the same process of blind peer review as all the others in this journal.
Association of Video Interaction Guidance UK (AVIGuk) www.videointeractionguidance.net
British English Coach 2104 http://britishenglishcoach.com/how-to-interrupt-politely-and-not-so-politely-in-english/ downloaded 06.09.16
Biemans, H. 1990 “Video Home Training: theory method and organisation of SPIN’. In J. Kool (ed.) International Seminar for Innovative Institutions. Ryswijk: Ministry of welfare, health and culture, Netherlands.
Kennedy, H., Landor, M. & Todd, L. 2011 Video Interaction Guidance: a relationship-based intervention to promote attunement, empathy and wellbeing. London: Jessica Kingsley Publishers
Landor, M. 2015 ‘How and why Video Enhanced Reflective Practice (VERP) works’. In H. Kennedy, M. Landor & L. Todd (eds.) Video Enhanced Reflective Practice: professional development through attuned interactions. London: Jessica Kingsley Publishers.
Simpson, R. 2014 ‘The origin of VIG in the UK: an introduction to the journey’ Educational Psychology in Scotland, Vol. 15 No. 1. Leicester: The British Psychological Society, Scottish Division of Educational Psychology.
Trevarthen, C 1979 ‘Communication and cooperation in early infancy. A description of primary intersubjectivity.’ In M. Bullowa (ed.) Before speech: the beginning of human communication. London: Cambridge University Press, 321-347.