HYCS #7 – Why is Your Client Acting Like That?

Why is Your Client Acting Like That?

All the techniques in the world won’t help without this one key ingredient.

Word Count: 797

Reading Time: 3.5 minutes

Assignment Time: 3 minutes a day

“I’ve been to all these trainings, Liz:  Active listening, fierce leadership, crucial conversations, not listening, speaking the truth, saying what’s so without blame or judgment, not speaking out of turn.  One technique contradicts another.   Knowing all these techniques doesn’t help if I don’t know when to use them.  How can I know what to use when?”  My client, John, was puzzled.

John didn’t much like the answer I gave him.

You may not either.

Techniques are like tools. They are not the project. When my contractor friend Vern works, he grabs the right tool for the job.  There’s no agonizing:  The right tool appears in his hand at the right moment.  It looks automatic.  It isn’t.  His tool choice is dictated by what he wants to accomplish.

Earlier today, I watched a group of dancers hanging from bungee chords dance on the side of a tall building in downtown Oakland.  It looked effortless, graceful and magical.  Because I know one of the dancers, I know better.  It’s hard work.

But there is a secret to shifting from a person with a bunch of communication techniques, or tools or dance moves, to a professional contractor, dancer or consultant.  You have to want success so badly you’ll let it make a fool of you to get it.

The contractor wants the perfect fit between pieces of lumber, a wall that is level, true and plumb.  Vern will do whatever it takes to get it.  If it takes mumbling measurements to himself to get it done, that’s what he does.

Those dancers spend hours, days, years of their lives training every muscle fiber so that, when the music starts, they become the dance.  They reach right through the technique to the beauty they want to express.

Technique is the means; the end is the reason they are there in the first place.  You reach right through technique to get something done.  Technique isn’t art.  Technique is the means to art.  In this case, it’s the means to artful consulting.

What are you reaching for?  If you want to look good, your client won’t trust you.  If your goal is to be right, your client will resist you.  If it’s winning the argument, you’ll have an unpleasant time of it.  Your clients act funny when your agenda isn’t their agenda.  There is a fine line between establishing credibility and showing off.   There is a razor’s edge between being an expert and being a jerk.

When your agenda is to help your clients with their agenda, your clients straighten right up.  That’s the key ingredient.  It’s the thing our clients hope we are reaching for.

So how do you know what technique to use?  Use the technique that aligns your agenda with your client’s agenda the fastest. 

I have some assumptions that help me with this.

Assumption #1:  I assume I’m going to get it wrong, and that’s OK.  I may get everything wrong:  I’m going to get the goal wrong, the situation wrong, the solution wrong.  Because I think this is normal, it frees my client to be wrong too, which helps us both relax.  But the big pay-off is this:  It prevents me from showing off.  If I am not showing off, there is a much better chance that we’re going to get to the bottom of the situation and do something that will make a positive difference.  I’ll look like a fool for that chance.  Making a positive difference is what I’m reaching for.

Assumption #2:  My clients are perfect mirrors.  What I see in them is a perfect reflection of what I’m putting out into the world.  If they are resisting me, I’m being resistant.  If they are reacting to me, I’m doing something to provoke it.  If they are frustrating me, I wonder how I’m stopping myself.  Thinking this way gives me near-absolute power to make a difference, simply by changing what I do or think.


Getting caught up in technique can mean you’ve lost sight of what you‘re reaching for.   Your assignment is to get reconnected with what you’re reaching for.    If it helps you to borrow one or both of my assumptions, I’m happy to share.

To borrow Assumption #1, paraphrase something incorrectly and relax into being corrected.  Go too far with a suggestion, then nod and smile when you’re brought back to reality.  Notice how no one has been injured or harmed in any way because you got something wrong.

To borrow Assumption #2, start owning everything as yours.  There is an awkward way of putting this into words that helps me:  “I have you being the part of me that frustrates me.”  I know – it’s awkward to the point of being tortured.  Just try this sentence stem and see how it goes:  “I have you being the part of me that…..”