How we express genuine care for a client or business associate can be a transformative skill in business.
In moments when a colleague or customer is navigating loss of health, a marriage, or a loved one, I have said with sincerity, “I’ll be thinking about you.”
Those five words have tumbled out of my mouth as a response to another’s distress more times than I can remember. But what exactly do they mean?
How do the words “thinking about” lessen the pain another bears? They sound good on the speaker’s ears, but really, what is the connection between thinking and care?
There has never been a time in my 63-plus years of life when it felt like we were as close to drowning in words as we are today. We email, tweet, post, blog, send, forward, edit, copy, paste, delete and share words with mouse-click speed. The very act of reading bears witness to this vexing but apparently inescapable phenomenon. Words are here to stay. And they are multiplying and stored somewhere in the cloud!
When it comes to our clients, the words we use are either nouns or verbs; they are static or dynamic, sounds or behaviors, terms or actions. Though I have and at times still say it, I ask again, what does “I’ll be thinking about you” mean?
Reflect on a moment in your life when the horizon looked threatening, bleak, even cold. Did anyone’s “thinking about you” awaken the courage to cope with some horrific moment with greater purpose, resolve, or hope?
My guess is that when menacing interruptions come – as they do for us all – courage welled up in your soul because another person listened to you, sat with you, met you for coffee or sent you an uplifting card or a brief note. All of which turned care into a verb.
What if we connected with our clients by being more “verb-al” than verbal?
To pull that off, we must put flesh on the bones of words, infusing presence into the script of an otherwise ho-hum afternoon of business-as-usual conversations. The key is recognizing the cues others send our way. What would those be?
Take note of a change in the sound or cadence of another’s voice when you first exchange greetings. I have a client who has the uncanny ability to read my voice when we get on the phone. Sometimes he misreads my emotions, but often he is spot-on. “Tim, you sound a bit down today.” And yes, a couple weeks ago when I called, I was. A close friend and client had passed away, and I was still processing that grief. My voice gave me away.
Prepare yourself for the split-second when you first hear another’s voice or make eye contact. If you detect a lack of facial vitality or a change in the voice, find a way to ask, “Is something going on you could share with me?”
Listen with ear and heart, creating a safe place for the other person to talk. Notice the eyes and whether or not the person’s head is raised or a bit lower than normal. Drop the business purpose of the call and listen.
Then ask, “Might I stop by your office for a few minutes this afternoon or can we meet for coffee? I think you need a friend.” In that transition, you move from noun to verb, clichés to connection.
Last, hone the craft of the visit. We spend so much of our work time behind a desk, hands busy meeting a deadline, feet ambling to a copier or fax machine, making and receiving calls, doing the needed administrative tasks that never end. In the midst of work flow, we forget that our labor’s meaning and even joy is, and will always be, people-focused, care-sensitive, punctuated with a warm and genuine human touch.
Make care a verb. Catch yourself, as I do, attempting to make ourselves feel better by the “thinking about you” phrases. In their place, offer the visit, the cup of coffee, a handwritten note, and the always-meaningful non-business, life-affirming conversation.
Most of all, stay close to the people you serve in those moments when their greatest need is not another cliché, but a real person like you.
(The writer is author of Cadence of Care: Imagining a Transformed Advisor-Client Experience, and can be followed on his blog at www.timowings.com. He lives in Augusta.)