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

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?

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