By George Dutch
As career professionals, we spend a great deal of time listening to client stories. Mining these stories for value can improve our delivery of services. For example, what does it mean when a client says, "I am a people person"? (You may have used the same phrase; after all, we work in a helping profession!)
This is a general and vague statement until we probe more deeply to determine its real meaning. Try getting your clients to tell some stories not related to work. Ask them to talk about times in their lives when they are doing what they enjoy most and doing it well. Individuals will often gravitate to what they most enjoy when they are free to do so, especially during their discretionary time. Remember, it’s not what they CAN do; we all acquire competence with skills through training or experience.
A natural strength, as opposed to a can-do skill, is something we do effortlessly; something that energizes us; and something that gives us innate satisfaction--in short, when we do it, we make it look easy; when we use it, we are often in a state of flow. As they focus on those events and activities, listen actively. By doing so, we learn more about our clients, their priorities and preferences. This can help us better position and package a client’s value proposition, or better coach them to reach their career goals.
Subject Matter. When a client says they are a people person, are they commenting on a preferred subject matter? That is, are they telling us something important about what they enjoy working with and through on a daily basis? Listen for specific clues to the configuration of their fascination with people. Do they prefer working with individuals one-on-one? Or, working with or among teams?
Or, are they interested in broader groups of people, such as people of a particular culture or religion? populations with particular needs or interests? Or, are they interested in the traditions, beliefs, languages, and habits of other cultures? Or, are they people watchers, fascinated by human behavior, by what “makes people tick,” by the way people think or feel, and the psychology behind what causes people to say or do something? Try drilling down into the I-am-a-people-person statement with a few specific questions: How did you get involved with that? What did you do exactly on your own (or as part of a team)? What was particularly enjoyable or consistently satisfying about that? Listen carefully for clues that reveal their natural inclinations, strengths, preferences.
Natural talents. Perhaps it is not people as a subject matter that motivates them; instead, they have a natural helping talent--they enjoy tutoring individuals; or, helping others complete their goals or projects; or, giving advice to others; or, reassuring and supporting others.
Do they have a knack for stepping into situations where they see shortages to fill or needs to be met? Do they actively seek out situations to be useful or helpful (if not indispensable) as they step in and aid others with assistance, guidance, support or tangible resources--not as a job requirement but in their own time because it energizes them? This helping talent could be leveraged into certain helping professions, or highlighted in their resume and value proposition.
Perhaps they are using an intuitive talent that is only triggered by contact with people. For example, they might have a knack for discerning people’s character quickly and accurately, and usually read people accurately, or are rarely fooled by anyone. Again, this could have a bearing on the kind of work they are suited to do (e.g. credit loan officer, immigration official, police detective, recruiter, counselor, probation officer), or the job skills that should be highlighted in their resume or brand.
Conclusion. You may find a reservoir of revelations behind the simple statement: I am a people person. By using the skills we already have for listening, questioning, analyzing, and synthesizing, we can better position, package and coach our clients for success. They are more likely to succeed if they are motivated, and they are more likely to be motivated when aligning their key success factors with a job that will recognize and reward them for what comes naturally and easily to them. Each successful client is our best source of new and growing business.