The Client-centred Blog

Labels are for jars, not people

Have you ever been told you are not listening?

I have.

It did not feel good and I thoroughly deserved it.

I was new to coaching and was very enthusiastic about sharing my knowledge with my client. So enthusiastic that I thought what I had to say was more important than what he had to say.

Just recently I was watching a video with the brilliant Tom Chi.

Tom’s list of accomplishments is quite astonishing, including being a key developer of Microsoft Outlook, head of product experience for Google x and a leading a multi-billion-dollar global businesses in 44 countries.

One of the things Tom teaches his people is the power of creative listening and why… 

Knowledge is the enemy of learning

As professional people we have knowledge. We think this is the value we bring to clients, so we look for opportunities to share it.

This is exactly what I was doing when I got called out by my client.

I was listening out for problems and as soon as I heard one, I thought I could fix I jumped on it. 

Of course, our knowledge is valuable and there will come a time to share some of it, but…

As soon as we label something, we are saying ‘I know’ and we stop listening, we stop connecting and we stop being curious. As Tom Chi points out, we are also forfeiting our mental agility.

What do we tend to label?

Almost everything. We label people. We label problems. We label ourselves.

A client said to me “I’m disorganised!”, as though it was a quality genetically determined at birth!

I could have assumed that I knew what they meant by ‘disorganised’, but that would most likely be completely different to what they actually meant.

So, I asked a question instead…

“What do you mean?”

This is one of the most powerful questions you can ask someone. Instead of making an assumption you ask for clarification. You open the possibility of learning more about someone and connecting with them at more than a transactional level because you want to understand them.

Why does this matter?

Your competitors have the same or similar products to you. So, what will make you different?

We live in a world where most people are trying to make an impression and do a lot of talking. Yet a criticism you will never hear is that ‘You listened too much’. 

P.S. It is useful to notice where we tend to label things and intentionally stay curious instead. For example, if a client wants to talk about retirement then what does that mean? What precisely do they mean by ‘retirement’? Go deeper with this exploration than you ever have before. 

John Dashfield

John Dashfield spent 14 years as a self-employed adviser. Since 2006 he has been a coach, mentor and author helping advisers create transformations in their business and personal lives.


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