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Personalisation: Interpersonal Skills for Practitioners using Personal Construct Psychology. JSWEC 2009 Barry Cooper, The Open University b Nick Reed, University of Hertfordshire Aims of the Workshop 1. Key contexts: Personalisation

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personalisation interpersonal skills for practitioners using personal construct psychology

Personalisation: Interpersonal Skills for Practitioners using Personal Construct Psychology

JSWEC 2009

Barry Cooper, The Open University

Nick Reed, University of Hertfordshire

aims of the workshop 1
Aims of the Workshop 1

Key contexts:

  • Personalisation
  • Self-reflection
  • Reflexivity
  • Activity: practising the use of ‘Self-Characterisations’
activity self characterisation
Activity: Self-Characterisation

As George Kelly, the inventor of Personal Construct Psychology, said: ‘If you want to know about a person, ask them, they may tell you’. The PCP method of "Self-Characterisation" is an individual reflexive exercise based on this simple idea:

"Write a character sketch of [your name] in your work role (e.g. social worker, health professional etc) just as if you are the central character in a play. Write it as it might be written by a friend who knows you very intimately and very sympathetically, perhaps better than anyone ever really could know you. Be sure to write it in the third person. For example, start out by saying "[your name] is ..................................”

aims of the workshop 2
Aims of the Workshop 2
  • Personal constructs - the bipolar dimensions through which we see the world

Activity: eliciting some of your personal constructs

  • Looking at how personal constructs inform behavioural choices so that we can see why a person chooses to behave in the ways that they do

Activity: personal constructs and your core values ("laddering")

  • Seeing how someone's personal constructs can be elaborated to define their precise meaning

Activity: getting down to the detail ("pyramiding")

activity eliciting constructs
Activity: ‘Eliciting’ Constructs

Ask your partner to think of 3 people: two clients with whom they have enjoyed working and one client with whom they have not enjoyed working. Write the initials of each of these people on separate cards - one person’s initials per card.

Ask your partner: “In terms of social work practice in what important way are two of these people alike and thereby different from the third.”

When your partner has given you the first 'pole' of the construct, ask them for their subjective opposite in meaning to that pole (i.e. not the dictionary opposite). When you have been given that opposite pole, you have 'elicited' one of the personal constructs your partner uses to differentiate between their clients.

NB. The opposite pole may or may not be a characteristic of the third element.




A client with whom I have enjoyed working


A client with whom I have not enjoyed working


Another (different) client with whom I have enjoyed working

activity laddering
Activity: Laddering

Constructs to Ladders: Gazing towards the Core

  • Laddering: theory of implications
  • Staged process of focused self-enquiry:
    • why is this important to you?
    • because…
  • Leading towards ‘core’ constructs: the constructs which have the most ‘value’ to the person and the most implications for change or challenge
the laddering process
The Laddering Process
  • Ask your partner which pole of the personal construct they prefer.
  • Ask your partner why they prefer that pole to the other pole of the construct. Write down their answer. Then, ask what for them personally is the opposite of what they have said and write that down.
  • Carry on going up the ladder using the procedure set out above, always starting with the preferred pole side of the ‘ladder’ as you go up each ‘rung’.

4. Instead of asking why they prefer one pole to the other, you can ask the interviewee why one pole is more important to them than the other. You also can ask them what the benefits (or advantages) are to them of being X rather than Y. Stress that it is their personal view that is required.

5. You will sense when you have reached the top of the ladder because your partner will probably be stating very abstract concepts such as “Well that’s what life’s all about” or, they may not be able to offer any further answers.

some laddering tips
Some Laddering Tips
  • Often, your interviewee will give you a great deal of information. To reduce this to manageable proportions, ask them to summarise.
  • It is important that you remind your interviewee frequently that it is their personal response in which you are interested. For example, ask things like “And what are the advantages to you personally of being X rather than Y?” or “Why do you personally prefer X to Y?”
  • Resist gathering further information as you go “up the ladder”. If you don’t, the chances are that your interviewee will become distracted and you run the risk of never getting to the top ‘rung’ of the ladder.
  • Sometimes your interviewee will offer rather bland responses such as: “because it makes me happy” or “because I am more comfortable being X rather than Y”. These responses are not much use for taking you up the ladder - everyone would like to be happy and comfortable. If you meet this situation, say something like this to the interviewee: “Yes, but in what way does it make you personally more comfortable (or happy or whatever) to be X rather than Y?”
laddering example
Laddering Example
  • My faith has made me who I am vsLose my faith
  • Remain truthful to my beliefs vsBeing false
  • Look for positives / manage negatives vs Non-ethical person
  • Ensure I do the best for clients vs Anything for an easy life
  • Remain me as a personvs Becoming an automaton
activity pyramiding
Activity: Pyramiding

Pyramiding is a method which enables the interviewer to make a person’s constructs more concrete.

The process of pyramiding is one of asking ‘What’ and ‘How’ rather than ‘Why’ (the laddering question).

If one way that a person discriminates between cars is by using the construct economical vs uneconomical, and you want to know what they mean by ‘economical’, you can use pyramiding to find out. They may just mean it uses modest amounts of fuel - but they may also be referring to cheap servicing, spares, insurance and low depreciation.

Pyramiding can also be used to elicit specific behaviours. For instance, a client may use the construct warm -v- cold to describe one of the ways she uses to differentiate between people. She can be asked “How do you “recognise someone who is ‘warm’ ”. She may say “because they come up to you and talk to you rather than ignore you”.


  • Central to Personal Construct Psychology is the idea of a person having a system of bipolar personal constructs which are arranged hierarchically.
  • PCP is explicitly “reflexive” and applies to both the practitioner and their client.
  • PCP techniques are specifically designed to help you to ‘step into your client’s shoes’.

Today we have looked at the following PCP methods which you can add to your existing range of interpersonal skills:

  • The personal construct narrative technique, the "Self-Characterisation"
  • Eliciting bipolar personal constructs
  • Laddering
  • Pyramiding
reading list
Reading List


  • Bannister, D. & Fransella, F. (1986) Inquiring Man. (3rd edition) London: Routledge.
  • Butt, T. & Burr, V. (2004) Invitation to Personal Construct Psychology. (2nd edition) London: Whurr Publishers
  • Dalton, P. & Dunnett, G. (2005) A Psychology for Living. (2nd edition) Chichester: John Wiley & Sons.
  • Fransella, F. (1995) George Kelly. London: Sage Publications Ltd.



This website gives details of PCP Distance Learning Courses and face to face workshops offered by the Centre for Personal Construct Psychology at the University of Hertfordshire.


This website has information on Personal Construct Psychology and Repertory Grid Technique.