Posted by Mike
When I was in graduate school, among the most prominent clinical psychologists in the country was Carl Rogers. His focus was humanistic, and he called his approach client-centered therapy. One of his key concepts was congruence. It refers to a person’s presentation in interaction with others. To be congruent, one’s speech and ideas, emotional expression, and physical presentation should reflect the same theme. For example, if you’re thanking someone for a gift, one’s emotional expression and physical manner should express appreciation. I’ve been mulling over this idea of congruence for the past several days as I was in a situation recently in which several people I interacted with seemed to not be congruent. Maybe people react differently in such a situation. What I tend to do is freeze up. I may not think “What’s going on here?” but that’s what I feel. I also experience a bit of confusion, what I’m experiencing from the other person just doesn’t add up and make sense.
It may be that an individual’s guardedness or insecurity will come across as a lacking of congruence. And of course that’s exactly what is going on. If I’m preoccupied with something that’s interfering with my ability to interact during the process of interaction, I’m not being congruent. One of the Presidential candidates during the debates two years ago was perplexing. His presentation seemed calculated and wooden; the words were right, but his emotional expression and physical presentation were stilted and unnatural. How can you trust a person like that, when it’s clear that there’s something else very important going on beneath the surface. It might only be a sort of perfectionism and ruleboundedness, but such qualities can have serious downsides in the heat of decision-making.
There is one kind of person who can come across as congruent, but is definitely not, and that’s the sociopath. These people are super smooth, and they can present idea, emotion, and manner perfectly congruently, and yet have a massive hidden agenda that the recipient of their attention must avoid at all costs. If anything, the sociopath is too smooth, too perfectly congruent. Given a little time with a sociopath they become unbelievable and the chinks in their defense become apparent. Hopefully this will occur before you discover that your wallet is missing!
Carl Rogers lived from 1902 to 1987