I Don’t Care How Good You Are At What You Do

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I recently went to see a holistic health practitioner in town about whom I’d heard good things.

I arrived at his office and was welcomed to sit down.

He opened his laptop and asked me for my email and then for my wrist. “We start with taking your pulse,” he explained.

So he took my pulse for about a minute and then, for the next 45 minutes told me what was going on and what I needed to do about it based on my particular constitution and body type. As he made these suggestions, he typed them into the email he was going to send me.

And I sat there having an incredibly mixed experience. 

On one hand, his words were incredibly accurate to what I was experiencing and I was appreciative to have him taking such great notes on the particulars to send me. It’s the worst to see a practitioner who rattles off all of the things you are supposed to do and then expects you to remember them all.

On the other hand, he never asked me what had brought me to see him that day. Not once.

There was no intake form for me to fill out.

On the table in front of us was some tea. He never offered it to me. I had to ask about it.

And so I sat there, wondering, “Is he actually going to ask me why I came in the first place?” for the entire session feeling increasingly annoyed and confused. 

I don’t care how good you are at what you do.

For 45 minutes, I sat there while he talked at me, asked me focused questions, and then typed out the homework he was giving me. On one hand, the homework and suggestions were specific and generous. There was no sales pitch for a huge program. He wasn’t holding back the good stuff. And, on the other hand, I had to finally speak up towards the end to say, “Just to let you know, I’m on the edge of overwhelm right now.”

He seemed to get it. He made a few more suggestions and then, finally, he paused and said, “Any questions?”

But he seemed to mean, “Do you have any questions about what I told you?”. He still wasn’t asking me why I’d come.

In truth, it might not have changed anything he told me. I can’t know. And it’s his practice, so I am a guest in his practice. I’m not there to tell him how to run his business. And, despite the frustration I felt, I genuinely like the fellow. 

It lifted up for me the importance of empathy in our interactions with our clients. As the old adage goes, “I don’t care how much you know until I know how much you care.”

I don’t care how good you are at what you do.

Empathy before education.

But there’s something else: I’m not sure how much I trusted his advice given how little context he had about me and my life and what had brought me there. There could have been many causes of my pulse reading. Maybe I’d come there just to see if we were a fit. Maybe I’d come to get his take on a particular symptom I was having. From reading my pulse there are so many thing he couldn’t have known (or at least that I couldn’t have known he might know).

If people don’t trust your diagnosis, they won’t trust your prescriptions.

And so, when we first meet with a client, it’s vital that they feel we understand their situation and why they are there. It’s vital that the trust that we are clear about their symptoms and that we are taking them seriously. It vital not only that we understand but that they feel understood – that they know we’re both on the same page.

This can be done in ways as simple as restating what you heard them say and asking them, “Did I get it right? Am I missing anything?”

When they feel clear that we ‘get’ them, they will automatically relax and be open to our guidance. Until that moment, no matter how brilliant and skilled we are, they will be sitting there, tense, waiting and resentful of their assumptions. Our assumption that we ‘get it’ will likely be read as our arrogance. Our job isn’t just to give good advice, it’s to foster an openness to it.

I don’t care how good you are at what you do.

My colleague Bill Baren suggests weaving these two questions into the early part of your session with a client, “Why me? Why now?”

These questions do two things: They let us know their reasons for coming to us but they also remind our client of why they chose us and why this issue matters so much to them.

If that’s not your style, it’s okay. But you might want to tell them that before they come to see you. You might want to make sure they understand that before they show up. If, when I’d asked to book an appointment, I was sent to a webpage letting me know his style, I would have been able to make a choice if that was the style I wanted or to at least be ready for it. If the page had said something like the following, I would have likely still done the session and felt much better about it.

“So, my style is that I don’t do intake forms and I don’t ask you questions before we get started. When we begin, I will ask you for your wrist and take your pulse. After twenty five years of doing this, I’ve found that the less I know the better when it comes to getting a clear pulse reading. Once I’ve taken your pulse, I will start working on an email to send you with my advice. It might sound strange but, after all these years, I can take your pulse, look at your body type and get a very strong sense of where you’re at and what’s needed. If I need to ask clarifying questions I will. There will be some tea ready for you and, being wrapped up in helping you, I will likely forget to offer you some, so please help yourself.”

If your style differs from how everyone else does it (e.g. no intake forms) it’s good to explain it to people. Let them know your reasons why.

I don’t care how good you are at what you do.

I mean, of course I do, but I don’t just care about that.

It’s vital to see our role as not being just to give advice but to make our case for what we’re saying. To lay out the logic. To break down our point of view so it all makes sense.

But, before we can even do that, we need to earn their trust for that advice. And that comes from listening to where they’re at until they feel clear that we understand their situation.

I printed off the suggestions he sent me and they’re incredibly useful. I’ll be diving into them over the coming months. Isn’t it funny how things can be such a mix?

My final thought…

What if, instead of trying to prove how good we were at solving the problem, we first focused on proving how good we were at understanding it?

About Tad

  • CraigDMartin

    Thank you for sharing this – it totally needed to be said. Without a good combination of empathy (listening) and clear communication to the client (speaking), of course you’re going to have a confusing, annoying and possibly frightening experience.

    This reminded me of an experience of my own the other day, in a different context. I hosted a meetup(.com) group on the subject of personal branding. A new member I’d never met posted on the event page that he could host it for me, and outlined his agenda, based on a personal branding presentation he does on a regular basis. I felt a little off about this, since he didn’t ask about my interest so much as inform me of his intent. Long story short, I talked with him and then decided to take a risk and turn the evening over to him.

    It didn’t go too badly, but similar to your experience, there were some annoying parts that tested my good will toward him. (1) I discovered by chance that he had posted the event on his own web page, and invited people to register for it there, without informing me. The event space had limited seating, and he didn’t tell me that extra people would be coming. (2) Some of the extra people turned out to be presenters. Surprise! He brought three other people with him: 1 co-presenter, 1 admin assistant, and 1 (surprise!) videographer with equipment.

    The videographer set up his camera without asking if we’d like them to record the event. They assured me the camera would be focused on the presenters and would not include the audience. Ten minutes into the presentation, I watched the camera pan over and focus on me as I asked a question. Of course, there was plenty of audience participation, so it would have been impossible to exclude us.

    After the presentation, I asked about the intent of the recording. They told me that the audio had malfunctioned, so it wasn’t going anywhere anyway. I discussed my misgivings with them (that some people don’t like being recorded, that I would have liked to know in advance) but their response, although friendly and reassuring, felt dismissive and not very empathic.

    Similar to your experience, I still like the guy. He wanted to share his knowledge for free and help people. Yes, he did make an offer at the end which involved a paid seminar (on which he did get agreement from me beforehand), but he also provided some good information without charging. And it’s also important to note that the group members appreciated the presentation and didn’t appear to share any of my misgivings.

    But dang, if he’d only been more up-front and empathic.

  • Excellent article. People will not take in our advice or solution if first they don’t feel we understand their problem. Understanding them is not enough, making sure THEY KNOW we understand them is crucial. I’m guilty for not always following this, and this is such a great reminder. Beautiful story, thanks for sharing!

  • Brenda Sargeant

    Love this! YES! My biggest joy in my work is getting to know my clients and understanding what they want THEIR clients/customers to FEEL when they interact with them.

    Fantastic read, thank you.

  • Yes very true…I guess the style you prefer is up to each person, situation and problem. But letting people know what your style is before hand will definitely help with people whether it is fit. My own style is definitely the empathic style…so this gave me some ideas of how use it to add extra value to the experience of clients when booking a session. Thank You!

  • John Weeks

    Great article!

    Naturally, we all have our own ‘way’ of working with people. Yet without investing a little time to build rapport with anyone, you miss a huge opportunity to begin to understand how to help. Regardless of what we offer, the focus should be on our client/patient or customer.

    Personally, I offer a 10 minute phone consult. The first 15 seconds are vital, ask them their name and then “How can I help you?” Basic customer service.

    Followed by, “Do you need to know a little more about about how I can help you?” Give them room to speak (or not) and be silent… it can take some people a lot of courage to pick up the phone. Reflect back if need be and highlight a few possible ways you can help. Clarify if necessary. Mention your website or offer to send a leaflet in the post.

    After that point, the majority of people want to make an appointment and are forwarded a form to complete – again by email or hard copy by post. A confirmation email/letter is sent with appointment and T & Cs. As well as directions on how to find me, with mobile (cell) phone details for on the day.

    At every appointment, whether with a new person or established client, they are welcomed, offered an opportunity to use the bathroom and asked if they want a drink. Once the clinic door is closed, the appointment begins with me listening to them for 5-10 minutes – then and only then do I look at their form or previous notes.

    I’m very good at what I do vocationally. Yet every appointment and treatment session is about my patient or client – no more, no less.

  • Dianna Graves

    Thank you for your thoughts and sharing your experience – it’s a very valuable reminder :)

  • I agree, it’s very important to listen. Practitioners need to understand that if their client doesn’t feel ‘heard’, they will not be as receptive to your information, or whatever your healing modality may be. Part of my practice is bodywork. I AWAYS give attention to the clients primary complaints. When I touch that sore spot or in a sense ‘say hello’ to those areas early on in the session, their body and psyche immediately relax…the client knows I’ve heard them, and understand. As practitioners, therapists, coaches, we need to put our ‘agenda’ aside, and know that healing takes place first with Presence.

  • cis

    Lol, a great suggestion for website instructions there…

  • This reminds me of a post you wrote quite some time back where you described listening to a friend who had a personal issue. If I’m remembering it right, you heard her talk for a few minutes, and were just about to give her some advice, when she started talking about a different aspect of her problem. You revised your advice in your mind accordingly, and were just about to give her that advice, when she started talking about another offshoot of the issue. Long story short, after two or three hours of listening, you realized that if you’d given her the advice you’d thought of after she’d spoken for just a few minutes, it would have not even been relevant to the core of the issue.

    I feel like this provider may fall into the same trap…? Diagnosis through familiarity, but if he’d taken the time to really probe and listen and probe and listen some more, he could perhaps help you at a deeper and more effective level.