Relationships of Service


Relationships of Service | by Aileen Gibb, MMC

I’ve heard it said in coaching circles that as coaches we don’t need to like our clients but we must be able to love them. I hear this as a distinction between creating a pleasing relationship versus an active relationship in which we truly serve each other.

For example, I just took a phone call from a banking sales person. I had wanted to learn about an online payment system he was offering and he had texted me to set up a time to talk. (Am I the only one that thinks a text isn’t a great start to any relationship?) He did the usual chit-chat at the start of the call – how was my day, did I have a nice time on my recent trip, how was my walk with my dog, etc – believing, I assume, that he was building a relationship with me before talking about his product. Then talk about his product he did. In fact he talked about a competitors product that I happen to be currently using more than he even talked about his own. He made assumptions from the small pieces of information I injected into the conversation and the more he talked the more I was feeling the relationship was going nowhere. So I asked him:

“Do you think this is a good conversation?” I could feel his shock over the phone. He quickly told me he was consistently in the top rankings for his sales performance, from which I took it he thought I was the one with the problem. It was all about him. He still hadn’t asked how he might help me.

So this relationship was going nowhere. We politely agreed to hang up and as he rightly recognised, I am unlikely to pursue the matter further. This, I believe was a classic example of him thinking he’d build a relationship because he was ‘likeable’.

By contrast, had he an inkling of how masterly coaches are with questions and listening, he might have come to the conversation with less need to be liked and actively tuned in to what my real needs were from the call.

I would have responded well to him asking me enough questions to show that he truly cared to understand my situation. Had he asked me even one question: “what do you need from this call Aileen” (a question we often use to open a coaching conversation) I would have felt he was genuinely interested to understand how he might best serve me. I would have felt he was caring (if not yet loving) enough to establish a genuine connection which might then allow our relationship to flourish to the point where I may well indeed end up using his services.

Master coach, Steve Chandler, makes the distinction between pleasing and truly serving.

A pleasing relationship is one where we are concerned to be liked and to be likeable. Just as we’ve been trained through our whole lives to please our parents, our teachers, our bosses, our partners — often at the risk of sacrificing our own needs and ending up stressed, unfulfilled and often unhappy. I often find myself coaching around this topic with my clients.

A serving relationship is one we approach from a place of genuine curiosity to understand what the other person needs and with the intention to do our best to serve that need with genuine love, caring and respect. In coaching this sometimes means asking even the toughest of questions because we sense it to be in the client’s best interest, even if they might, in that moment, not really like us for asking a toughie.

My experience with my banking sales person reflects for me also the clear distinction that separates masterly coaches from mediocre coaches. We build meaningful, loving relationships in order to listen for how to best serve the client move towards their desired success. We don’t worry how much somebody likes us. Instead we actively love them for what they create and achieve in their life. And we know we created a mutually satisfying relationship that inspired them to grow, flourish, transform and achieve the results they set out to create.

Aileen Gibb, MMC : “My work has taken me around the globe and to conversations with people from many different nationalities, cultures and organizations. Wherever I’ve gone, the power of real conversation, founded on intentional listening and enlightened questioning, has been welcomed. It’s a core piece of our humanity to create the space for conversations that matter and to build connection and meaning with members of our family, our business and our communities.”

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