Yesterday I wrote a piece encouraging anyone who is a client to make the very most of the meetings they have with others who are in a position to help. In short, the message was one pleading for clients to make the very most of those opportunities.
So it now makes sense to turn to the role you and I play if you are one of those who host those meetings. As professionals meeting with clients, there is an inherent risk we run in sliding into poor habits due to the many we serve. So let’s look at the part we play and how we might go about those face-to-face encounters.
First of all, it’s usually we who drive the meeting isn’t it? I mean we might have requirements to meet with clients within designated timeframes. Whether it’s to update a file, satisfy some legislative or company requirement, we send out letters or make phone calls so we can ‘update the file’. What we should never forget or take for granted however is that, ‘the file’ exists because there is a person or people the file represents.
When we drive the agenda we might have the same pre-set questions ready at our disposal in order to garner the information required so we can update the electronic field in the computer software. We may have a template which designed to ensure we don’t forget or miss something, and this data collection allows the organization to then fulfill its requirements. On that front, it makes sense and all is good.
However, that person sitting in front of us is a unique individual. We may be tempted to evaluate them as similar or exactly the same as any number of other clients we have, but that one person has a unique background that has brought them to sit before us today. So whether it’s employment counselling, marital or grief counselling, financial advice, real estate transactions or any other kind of 1:1 meeting, that person is unique and worthy of being treated with respect and dignity.
So how to best show respect and dignity then is the question. It starts I believe in seeing this meeting as a two-way exchange; a conversation. Aside from our own agenda, shouldn’t we ask what’s on their mind? Is there anything they’d like to ask, share or clarify? Recognizing the other person has their own issues and needs and then paying attention and actively listening to them makes investing in the meeting and its outcome worthwhile.
Now I personally know of some people who are exceptionally good and unfortunately others who are exceptionally poor at hosting productive, meaningful meetings. The worst is the person who has all the forms pre-filled for the client to sign before even getting the clients input, sees the client as an intrusion in their day, and ushers them in and back out as quick as possible in order to join their teammates on an extended break.
Now ironically, some clients would love this kind of meeting. In and out quickly, not needing to be hauled back in (as they see it) for months, and by signing the forms they continue to benefit in some way without any real inconvenience to their daily life. I’ve met with such clients whose files I’d assumed in the past, and the first thing they found odd but good was that I actually sat there and talked with them instead of to them. They were initially suspicious, thinking I was pretending to care in order to find something to seize on. How relieved they were to find I used what they shared to suggest action plans that would help them. But isn’t that our job?
I’ve seen some really fabulous examples of conducting productive meetings too. Even now in my present job, I’ve got co-workers, (some I can overhear as they meet) who really invest themselves in the well-being of the client. The meetings are not rushed, the client is given 100% of the person’s attention, and the dialogue flows back and forth instead of one-way only. When the client leaves, they more often than not follow through with the plans agreed on, as there is more ownership and buy-in to a shared plan versus a plan they didn’t help develop being thrust on them.
So I believe that you – and I – need every now and then to remind ourselves that the people we see and assist are not only entitled to our full attention and our respect, but if it must be said, they are the very reason we even have the jobs we love in the first place.
For me personally, I imagine myself in their position, (as best I can) and try to give the service to them I’d want and hope for were I in their chair. That client might not even know what they should ask, or what funds or programs they might be eligible for. That’s my job – your job – to empower them with information and support which they can use to propel themselves forward.
Sometimes just listening to a person talk who senses they can trust you reveals all kinds of information which is then extremely helpful in addressing barriers and challenges.
It’s a great privilege to serve others, especially when we have the knowledge and the ability to do so. I applaud you if you are in such a position and thank you for doing so!