How to ‘Hang’ with the Client…and Still Get the Job!

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Are you in your stride, i.e. relaxed, friendly, laughing, having fun, with every new or prospective client? Are you able to “hang” with any potential client? “Hang” is a slang expression in English that means you are in a very informal, relaxed setting, and you are just enjoying the people you are with, typically friends.

I watched myself be this way with a potential new prospective client a while ago.  When I got the email from a senior leader from a globally recognized company, I decided I wouldn’t prepare anything. I would simply try to get a hold of them right away. I told myself that I had nothing to lose. This might be intimidating, but I realized that for a variety of reasons that day I was able to be my authentic self.

I also always hold the value that even if I don’t get the work, I want any client to feel happier and comforted that someone understands their challenging situation. I want them to walk away respecting the profession of facilitation but also feeling deeply respected.  Plus, I could learn a little bit about a potentially interesting situation that would be fun for me.  I should add that some clients may not immediately appear to be amenable to teasing and joking. So you do have to test the waters carefully.

The result…she wanted to work with me! And she was willing to accommodate my tight schedule to work with me, not an associate. That felt good. That I could be that authentic, still land a job, and be of service.  I took a mental note of what I did and what a difference it made.  My approach covered 12 IAF competencies in 6 categories. Let’s see what they are.

Listening…

The first thing I let her do was explain her situation.  I trusted my ability to listen but I also typed up some of her exact words as I was listening.  I affirmed as much as I could what her initial thoughts were in relationship to creating an agenda for her team.  I asked a few questions where I wasn’t clear.

 

IAF Competency used:

  • Practice active listening 

Setting Boundaries…

Time was a pressure so I made her aware of my time pressures so there would be no misleading on my part.  Sometimes I want a job so much that I am unrealistic about my ability to handle my workload with everything else that is going on.  I knew I would be more relaxed if I could be really honest about what was negotiable and what was not negotiable with this prospective client.  It allowed us to explore dates that were good for both of us.  One of the first things I usually try to get sorted out early in a conversation is how flexible they are around their dates.  It’s good to know if they have a hard and fast date early in the conversation.  You don’t want to waste their and your time if you know you can’t do the job.  They don’t want to have to repeat themselves with another prospective contractor.  In addition, they are usually sharing highly sensitive and confidential information and it’s not good practice for them to tell you if you’re not going to be further involved with them.

IAF Competencies used:

  • Clarify mutual commitment
  • Plan effective use of time
  • Model professional boundaries and ethics

Empowering the Client…

I sensed that from some of the things this person shared with me that she might not have had a lot of experience working with outside contractors and I wanted her to decide what would work for her. I was also prepared to share with her what I do with other prospective clients.  I wanted to make it really easy and comfortable for her to admit her inexperience.  So, I asked her what she needed to make this work for her and me.

IAF Competency used:

  • Act with Integrity: Describe situations as facilitator sees them and inquire into different views

Empathizing…

I empathized with the difficulty of the situation.  For example, I said in a somewhat sarcastic voice, “Sounds like you’ve been having a great time lately!”  That allowed her to laugh.  I could have just as easily said, “It sounds like you’ve been having a really rough time.”   I don’t always do this because it can sound condescending.  However, in this situation I was feeling that we had established a very quick level of trust and rapport – I know this from some of the things she said and the way we were laughing together.  It was almost an intuitive hunch that she needed some additional empathy for a challenging situation, a little humor.

She hinted at something that made me realize that she was not telling me the full story and things were potentially worse than what had already been shared.  I knew I may never talk to this person again and I wanted to leave them with a human touch.

IAF Competencies used:

  • Approach situations with authenticity and a positive attitude
  • Develop rapport with participants 

Being Sincere…

I thanked her for the chance to learn about her situation.  Sometimes we do this just as a polite protocol.  I always enjoy learning about the interior life of organizations.  It’s a privilege to have a 30-60 minute conversation even if you don’t get the work.  It helps me understand past and future client situations better.  It helps me mentor other facilitators who are working with similar client situations.  So I genuinely have benefited from giving up this time to a person who may never talk to me again.  Being sincere was not a protocol.  It reflects in your tone of voice.  It’s good to remember that when a client calls you, they are doing you a favor – not the other way around.

IAF Competencies used:

  • Maintain an objective, non-defensive, non-judgmental stance
  • Approach situations with authenticity and a positive attitude

The importance of Follow-up…

Immediately after the conversation I reviewed my notes and played around with what I heard her ideal aims for the intervention would be. I was guessing at some, based on her tone and some unspoken things. For other aims, I used some of her exact words.   I let the draft message wait a bit,  reviewed it a few hours later and then sent it.  When we spoke a few days later, I asked her if any of the aims were helpful in her thinking.  Surprisingly, it was the aims that I guessed/intuited that she resonated with the most.  She offered me the job. 🙂

IAF Competencies used:

  • Contract with client for scope and deliverables
  • Diagnose client need
  • Pre-define a quality product & outcomes with client

Barbara MacKay

Barbara loves “everything facilitation”. She thinks BIG! She loves working with other facilitators around the globe to create transformational results for client groups. She loves teaching others how to do that. She loves presenting at global facilitator conferences. She loves certifying new professional facilitators. If you also love what process facilitation can do for the world, connect with her – virtually or in person. She believes facilitation processes, used well, will provide the roadmap to a more just and sustainable world.

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