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Getting alongside

2005 September 20
by Malcolm Sleath

How do you stay focused on the client’s needs, without losing sight of your professional agenda?

Very often, we think we are driving the discussion forward, while the client thinks we are trying to take control. It can turn into a tussle.

Sometimes you have to let go to keep control. It’s a question of getting yourself into the right frame of mind.

I’ve noticed that people I admire seem to take the conversation out of the realm of personal power, and place it in some kind of protective envelope.

One of my colleagues does this by thinking of his clients as a puzzle to be solved. His interest is driven by the desire to make sense of their actions. Sometimes he seems detached and even a little cool, but clients like his style because he always sounds interested without having an axe to grind. One of the things clients look for in a professional is the quality of being interested yet disinterested.

I try to imagine myself alongside a client looking at the view. This frees me up to organise my thoughts about how the client sees things.

If your hunch about what the client needs is correct, letting the client have some space will allow the need to emerge. Pushing it forward creates the impression that you are pursuing an agenda. It’s only when the need emerges in the mind of the client that your solution will be seen to have any value.