A few years ago, I was at the Owen Roberts International Airport in Grand Cayman, Cayman Islands about to return home after an exciting and relaxing summer vacation with family and friends. While saying my good-byes, I saw a couple that looked to be in their fifties, pull up to the airport entrance. After the man retrieved the lady’s luggage and appeared to be ready to receive his good-byes, the lady stuck her head and hands inside the car, gave the dog a nice kiss and a hug then directed her attention to the man and repeated her actions (except that in my eyes, the dog’s kiss was longer). Nurtured by a culture that sees dogs only as outdoor-living protectors, I was quite flabbergasted. I was a teenager at the time and did not realize that one could have so much love and affection for dogs.
That experience years ago demonstrated to me that people develop and, most times, display emotions about the things they love. Jeanne Bliss, in her book I Love You More Than My Dog says, “What binds dog lovers to their pets is the constant devotion they receive from them: a warm welcome, caring nature, and selfless actions.” Sound familiar? A part of our role as counselors is to ensure our clients are comfortable with us since we are providing a service at a cost (in most cases), that we are empathetic, and also that we are dedicated to supporting them through their issues.
The way we treat our clients can result in them loving or not loving us. I propose that for us to retain clients and be effective in producing long-term positive results, we want our clients to love us. In fact, we want them to love us more than their dogs.
Jeanne Bliss mentioned five decisions in her book that we make to get our clients to love us.
Decision 1: Decide to Believe
We decide to trust our clients. We practice this by refraining from cynicism. This decision also requires us to believe that our clients will do the right thing. We give them the benefit of the doubt; and even if their actions go against our recommendation, we still trust them to do the right thing. I think of my four year-old son who usually does the complete opposite of what I say. Then there are those delightful occasions when he actually does, without any encouragement, the thing I have always asked him to do. Those are rewarding moments.
Decision 2: Decide with Clarity of Purpose
We take the time to clearly express our objectives with our clients. It is imperative that we also involve them in this process. This objective will then become the barometer which we as well as the client will use to measure the effectiveness of the relationship. I have always been told to under-promise but over-deliver. I tend to believe that this rule does not apply to our profession. We should never promise but always deliver.
Decision 3: Decide to Be Real
We avoid fancy talks loaded with jargons and scientific methods and approaches. We strive to demonstrate that we are also fallible humans with emotions, values, and beliefs. I realize that it’s not easy being real. Clients expect us to be ‘masters’ primarily at emotional and mental issues. Being real with our clients requires us to have a great level of confidence in ourselves and in our ability to help them. I believe it is who we are as a person without the façade that will cause them to love us and stay and not so much our ability to solve their ‘problems’.
Decision 4: Decide to Be There
In addition to being there physically for our clients, it is equally important for us to be there emotionally and mentally. This can be challenging as we also have to deal with our own stuff. We still have to gladly and honestly do our job to earn their love. Many times after a long and hectic day, my son wants me to do something with him like play a game or read him a book. Sometimes I am so tired I really want to say no. But I realize that he has no idea how I am feeling (and frankly does not care). However, he knows what he wants and I am just really happy he wants me to be a part of that. In many cases, our clients have multiple options of counselors to choose from but they chose us. That is a great privilege.
Decision 5: Decide to Say Sorry
As mentioned earlier, we are not infallible though our role may suggest that. I tend to believe that clients will appreciate our sincerity and humility. When we make a decision that turns out badly, we should apologize. We should always take accountability for our actions. Apologizing and taking steps to repair the relationship with our clients can go a long way in our clients’ decision to love us.
Our clients’ love for and commitment to us should be a reciprocation of our own love for and commitment to them. It is our decisions to practice empathy, consideration, and selfless service that demonstrate to our clients that we are lovable. Years ago when I saw that lady kiss and hug that dog, I knew I did not want to be that man. I would have wanted to be kissed first. That would demonstrate to me that I was loved more than the dog.
Pete Saunders is a graduate student at Capella University. He also writes a weekly blog and conducts a weekly video interview on manhood at razorsanddiapers.com