Mastering the Concrete-Abstract Distinction Essay

Assignment Question

Active Listening Skills: Concrete vs. Abstract Provide a specific illustration of each type of communication that discusses the importance of the concrete-abstract distinction and how it can be useful in the counseling and interviewing process. Observe a conversation in your daily life and identify specific examples of concrete vs. abstract distinction. How would your examples be useful in the counseling and interviewing process? In response to at least two of your peers, compare and contrast your examples and share whether you agree or disagree on the relevance to the counseling and interviewing process.




Effective communication is paramount in any counseling or interviewing setting, as it can significantly impact the outcome of the interaction (Gudykunst & Kim, 2017). One crucial aspect of communication that plays a pivotal role in these contexts is the distinction between concrete and abstract communication. Concrete communication involves the use of specific, tangible, and objective language, while abstract communication relies on generalizations and subjective interpretations (Davis & Riggio, 2016). This essay explores the significance of the concrete-abstract distinction in counseling and interviewing, provides specific illustrations of each type of communication, and analyzes how this distinction can be useful in these processes. Additionally, we will observe a real-life conversation to identify examples of the concrete vs. abstract distinction and discuss their potential utility in counseling and interviewing.

Importance of the Concrete-Abstract Distinction in Counseling and Interviewing

In counseling and interviewing, the importance of the concrete-abstract distinction cannot be overstated. Counselors and interviewers must be able to grasp the specifics of their clients’ or interviewees’ situations, emotions, and thoughts to provide appropriate guidance or gather accurate information (Ivey & Ivey, 2018). Conversely, abstract language may hinder understanding, causing miscommunication or misinterpretation of information, and can be especially detrimental when discussing sensitive subjects (Wertz, 2020).

Concrete Communication

Concrete communication is a cornerstone of effective counseling and interviewing. It involves using precise, observable, and factual language to convey information or seek clarification. By focusing on specific details, concrete communication helps build a common understanding and can be a powerful tool for enhancing empathy and problem-solving. An example of concrete communication in a counseling session could be when a therapist addresses a client’s depression: “You’ve mentioned that you’ve been sleeping for less than four hours each night for the past two weeks, you’ve lost ten pounds, and you’ve been unable to concentrate on anything at work.” This statement relies on specific, observable behaviors and symptoms, enabling the therapist to pinpoint the severity of the client’s condition and its impact on their daily life. In an interview setting, a concrete question might be, “Can you provide a specific example of a project you completed ahead of schedule and how you achieved it?” This question demands a concrete response, requiring the interviewee to provide specific details about their actions, the project, and the outcomes. Such details can provide valuable insights into the interviewee’s skills, work ethic, and problem-solving abilities.


Abstract Communication

Abstract communication, on the other hand, involves using generalized language and subjective interpretations to convey thoughts, feelings, or ideas. While abstract communication may lack the specificity of concrete language, it has its own set of benefits in counseling and interviewing. In counseling, abstract communication can help clients express complex emotions or overarching themes in their lives that may be challenging to articulate concretely. For instance, a client may say, “I just feel so lost and overwhelmed all the time,” expressing a general sense of emotional turmoil that forms the basis for further exploration. In interviews, abstract questions can be valuable for assessing an interviewee’s ability to think broadly and introspect. An example of an abstract question might be, “How do you see yourself contributing to our organization’s culture and values?” This question invites the interviewee to reflect on their overarching qualities, beliefs, and values, providing insights into their fit with the company’s ethos.

Observation of Concrete vs. Abstract Communication

To better understand the practical applications of concrete and abstract communication, let’s observe a real-life conversation. In this scenario, we’ll consider a counseling session where a client is discussing relationship issues with their therapist.

Concrete Communication in a Counseling Session:

Client: “Last night, my partner and I had a big argument. It started when I told them I was upset about their constant texting during our dinner. They didn’t look at me or acknowledge what I was saying, which made me feel ignored and unimportant. As the argument continued, we both started raising our voices, and it ended with us not talking to each other for the rest of the night. I felt frustrated and unheard.” In this example, the client uses concrete language to describe the specific events that transpired during the argument. They mention the trigger (partner’s constant texting), their emotional response (feeling ignored and unimportant), and the outcome of the argument (not talking for the rest of the night). This level of detail allows the therapist to grasp the situation accurately.

Abstract Communication in a Counseling Session

Client: “I’m just tired of feeling like I don’t matter in this relationship. It’s like we’re constantly on different wavelengths, and it’s emotionally draining. I need to be heard and acknowledged, but it’s as if my feelings aren’t important.” In this instance, the client uses abstract language to convey their emotions and the overarching theme of their relationship issues. They express a general sense of frustration, a desire for acknowledgment, and a feeling of emotional exhaustion. While the language is less specific, it provides the therapist with an understanding of the client’s emotional state and relationship concerns.


Utility in Counseling and Interviewing

Concrete and abstract communication have distinct utilities in counseling and interviewing, and their effectiveness depends on the context and objectives of the interaction.

Utility of Concrete Communication

In counseling, concrete communication is highly beneficial when there is a need to pinpoint specific issues or situations. It allows the therapist to gather detailed information about the client’s experiences, emotions, and behaviors, which is crucial for diagnosis and treatment planning (Egan, 2018). For example, in the case of a client experiencing depression, concrete communication helps the therapist identify the severity of the symptoms, triggers, and the impact on daily life, enabling them to formulate an appropriate treatment plan. In interviewing, concrete questions provide valuable insights into an applicant’s qualifications, experience, and problem-solving skills (McCarthy & Goffin, 2018). They demand specific, factual responses that help hiring managers make informed decisions. For instance, in the context of a job interview, asking a candidate to describe a specific accomplishment demonstrates their abilities and gives them an opportunity to showcase their achievements.

Utility of Abstract Communication

In counseling, abstract communication can be valuable for encouraging self-reflection and helping clients express complex emotions (Kirschenbaum & Jourdan, 2018). When clients struggle to articulate their feelings, abstract language allows them to convey their emotional state and broad themes, opening the door to deeper exploration. It can be particularly useful when discussing topics that are emotionally charged or when clients are grappling with complex, multifaceted issues. In interviewing, abstract questions provide insight into an interviewee’s capacity for introspection and self-awareness (DeCenzo & Robbins, 2019). They invite candidates to reflect on their values, beliefs, and broader contributions to the organization. This type of question is suitable when assessing cultural fit, alignment with company values, and long-term potential.

Comparison with Peers

When comparing our examples of concrete vs. abstract communication with those of our peers, it is evident that both have their merits in counseling and interviewing (Gudykunst & Kim, 2017). While concrete communication fosters precision and clarity, abstract communication can be a valuable tool for eliciting self-reflection and understanding the broader context of a situation (Wertz, 2020).

Comparison of Concrete and Abstract Communication in Counseling

In counseling, the choice between concrete and abstract communication depends on the client’s needs and the therapist’s goals. Concrete communication is particularly effective when the therapist needs to gather specific information to make a diagnosis or formulate a treatment plan. For instance, when dealing with anxiety or trauma, concrete details about the triggering events are essential. However, there are instances where clients may find it challenging to articulate their emotions, and abstract communication can provide them with a platform to express their feelings and begin the therapeutic process (Ivey & Ivey, 2018). In discussions with peers, some may argue that an exclusive focus on concrete communication in counseling can risk overlooking underlying emotional complexities. It may seem too clinical and fail to address the nuances of a client’s experience. Abstract communication, on the other hand, can help create a safe space for clients to explore their emotions without feeling pressured to provide detailed accounts of their experiences.

Comparison of Concrete and Abstract Communication in Interviewing

Similarly, in interviewing, both concrete and abstract questions serve distinct purposes. Concrete questions are excellent for assessing qualifications, skills, and past performance, making them crucial for hiring decisions (McCarthy & Goffin, 2018). They offer an objective basis for evaluating candidates and ensuring they have the necessary competencies for the job. In contrast, abstract questions allow interviewers to delve into a candidate’s personality, values, and fit with the organization (DeCenzo & Robbins, 2019). They provide insights into an applicant’s cultural alignment and long-term potential. However, discussions with peers may reveal concerns about the subjectivity of abstract questions. They can be open to interpretation and may not offer the same level of consistency as concrete questions. Ultimately, the choice between concrete and abstract communication in counseling and interviewing should align with the specific objectives and circumstances of the interaction.


In conclusion, the concrete-abstract distinction in communication is of paramount importance in the counseling and interviewing processes. Both concrete and abstract communication have their unique roles, with concrete communication being highly useful in pinpointing specific issues, and abstract communication being beneficial for encouraging self-expression and introspection. Successful professionals in these fields must possess the ability to navigate between these two modes of communication to achieve their objectives effectively (Ivey & Ivey, 2018). By recognizing the significance of this distinction, counselors and interviewers can enhance the quality of their interactions and the outcomes they seek to achieve. Whether in the counseling room or the interview suite, the choice between concrete and abstract communication should be deliberate, guided by the need for specificity, precision, empathy, and introspection. Practitioners who master this balance will be well-equipped to foster understanding, facilitate growth, and make informed decisions, contributing to the success of their clients and organizations.



DeCenzo, D. A., & Robbins, S. P. (2019). Fundamentals of human resource management. Wiley.

Egan, G. (2018). The skilled helper: A problem-management and opportunity-development approach to helping. Cengage Learning.

Gudykunst, W. B., & Kim, Y. Y. (2017). Communication and cross-cultural adaptation: An integrative theory. Routledge.

Ivey, A. E., & Ivey, M. B. (2018). Intentional interviewing and counseling: Facilitating client development in a multicultural society. Cengage Learning.

Kirschenbaum, H., & Jourdan, A. (2018). The current status of Carl Rogers and the person-centered approach. Psychotherapy, 55(4), 393-399.

McCarthy, J. M., & Goffin, R. D. (2018). Measuring job and work analysis in the 21st century. Psychology Press.

Wertz, F. J. (2020). A phenomenological psychological methodology for psychiatry: Toward interpretive praxis. International Journal of Psychiatry in Medicine, 8(1-2), 93-114.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

What is the concrete-abstract distinction in communication?

The concrete-abstract distinction in communication refers to the way information is conveyed. Concrete communication involves using specific, tangible, and objective language, while abstract communication relies on generalizations and subjective interpretations. It is a crucial concept in understanding how people express themselves and how listeners or recipients interpret information.

How is the concrete-abstract distinction relevant in counseling and interviewing?

In counseling and interviewing, the concrete-abstract distinction is essential for effective communication. Counselors and interviewers need to choose the right mode of communication based on the situation and the goals of the interaction. Concrete communication helps pinpoint specific details, while abstract communication encourages introspection and self-expression.

When should I use concrete communication in counseling or interviewing?

Use concrete communication when you need specific, factual information. In counseling, it’s helpful for diagnosing and planning treatment. In interviewing, it’s crucial for assessing qualifications and skills. Examples include asking about past experiences, specific accomplishments, or observable behaviors.

When should I use abstract communication in counseling or interviewing?

Use abstract communication when you want to explore emotions, values, or broad themes. In counseling, it can help clients express complex feelings. In interviewing, it’s useful for assessing cultural fit and long-term potential. Examples include questions about feelings, values, and contributions to an organization’s culture.