You don’t have to be a rookie on the Employment Counselling team to make this error in judgement, but it does tend to happen to those new to the field more often. However, even the most seasoned worker will have the occasional encounter with a client go wrong and only after some reflection immediately zero in on the problem.
So what is the number 1 mistake Employment Coaches and Counsellors make? For my money, it’s listening to a client tell their story and suddenly – almost unconsciously – begin to solve their problem for them. We fail to remain actively engaged in the listening process; we remember all the other people with similar challenges we have encountered in our work and mentally start plotting out the steps required for this person to move forward based on what has worked in the past for others.
Sounds logical doesn’t it? We’ve encountered people just like this person before. So the solution will be the same solution we’ve shared with others. The problem however is that we may fail to accurately gauge both where this client in front of us is at the moment and also fail to discern the skills they have to effectively implement any plan created. We may assume that what we would do in their situation is what they will see as the appropriate course to take as well.
However, isn’t it true that what clients actually do after we give them the divine plan differs from what we agreed they would do? When we speak with them the next time and they haven’t moved on the plan we say something like, “I thought we agreed you would…” The truth of the situation is that the client never really bought into the plan in the first place. They may have signed some paperwork with OUR plan all neatly laid out, nodded their head at the right moments, even perhaps voiced their agreement. Really what occurred is that they didn’t buy in, and they didn’t have the assertiveness to challenge the plan we were so enthusiastic about. After all, if we are the experts it must be a good plan, but it was never, ‘owned’ by the client as their plan.
Now when we assess that same client in the future and gauge their commitment to put a plan into action, we may further compound our relationship by branding this person as problematic. After all, they say they want to work or move forward, but they are clearly not acting on the advice we have so cleverly shared with them. This can create mistrust in the relationship for both client and Employment Coach.
To avoid this pitfall, it’s absolutely critical to tune in to the clients words and hear them as if you were hearing this tale for the very first time. You may have heard others voice similar barriers and challenges to getting hired, but you’ve clearly never heard this client tell their story. Not only is the client entitled to tell their own story, but in the listening, we as Employment Counsellors and Coaches have to assess their capacity to put any plan into action. How do we make that assessment? We ask open-ended questions that help us gauge their comprehension, literacy, attitudes and their ability to articulate their needs and current situations.
The plan we want to eventually devise not only has to have an end-goal that both parties buy into completely, but the plan has to have steps which this client in front of us is capable of achieving based on their existing skills. Bottom line? We mean well and want the best possible outcome for our client, but they may not be able to move at the pace we’d like, they may need smaller goals, greater supports in place to reach those goals and ultimately more time to realize their end goal.
I believe it is significant to remind ourselves that a client who is unemployed but wants to work is experiencing a heightened degree of stress. When they are in front of us, we should never forget that the outcome of our meeting may either ease their burdens and give them hope of success, or may compound their anxiety. If they leave with a plan they don’t own, it’s only going to result in coming up short. This leads only to a lower self-image, because they have one more person who had higher expectations of them they’ve disappointed. Ironically, we’ve set them up to fail.
Sometimes – in fact most of the time – a client isn’t able to articulate what they really need. They may say, “I need a job”. However, really talk with them and really listen to them and what you get is, “I feel like a failure, I don’t value myself, I don’t have anything to offer.” Small achievable goals which they can tangibly realize build their self-confidence and they experience a positive change in their self-perception. This is a precursor to their ability to actually get and keep a job.
You may also find a client initially wants, ‘anything’ as a job. ‘Anything’ is one clue that may suggest you are listening to someone who not only lacks career direction, but the necessary self-confidence to get what they perceive as a meaningful job. Help them build their self-esteem, and soon they’ll name a position that would make them happy.