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Home > Audio, Podcast, Show > Showing your clients the way — from the Career Opportunities Podcast

Showing your clients the way — from the Career Opportunities Podcast

May 13th, 2013

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Part of any great career, regardless of industry, focus or technology, is the ability to remember what it was like to not know something. As we gain knowledge and skills in our work, we can come to think of others as ignorant and clueless, if not outright stupid. This is a danger zone for any careerist as it leads to arrogance, hubris and — in many cases — obnoxious behavior. We can begin to think we are the smartest folks in the room and everyone else is an idiot. Of course, it only takes one bad day, one bad project, one bad result to bring us crashing back to reality.


 
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It is always important to remember that our co-workers, managers and freelance clients are rarely ever stupid. Rather, they are simply unacquainted and unfamiliar with the work they hired you to do. They know they need it done, but they also know they lack the skills to make it happen. This is a point in their favor. They are practicing the great rule of knowing what they don’t know and seeking out your assistance. That is never to be taken lightly.

For example, in a recent project I was asked to record and produce a series of interviews for a client. Their original thought was to record each subject, individually, in their homes or offices, over the course of one day. Hearing this, Some consultants might have said to them, “Are you crazy or just stupid? Do you know the work involved in setting up lighting and sound equipment, recording, tearing down and moving to a new location only to reset it all and tear it all down again?” The answer is, no they did not know. They don’t do this for a living and had no deep understanding of the work involved. This isn’t their area of expertise and frankly, they probably didn’t need to know this information to do their job. Remember, this is why clients call you.

To our credit, we didn’t respond in the way above, but rather saw this as an opportunity to educate and help them develop the project they wanted without blowing out our energy and their budget. We explained how it would be much easier to bring the people to a central location over the course of a few days so we could do one setup and teardown, but still record between 4-6 interviews in each session. Once we explained the logistics of such a project, they immediately saw how much easier — and yet more productive — this approach would be. Until we took the time to explain the process and procedures involved, they really had no idea what they were asking.

Again, this didn’t come from a place of stupidity, but rather a lack of understanding of the steps that led to the finished product they had in their mind. This is so typical when developing projects either internally or working as an outside consultant. Your clients see the finished product in their mind, but they may have no idea of all the work and preparation needed to get there. This is where your knowledge, skills and ability to educate become so very important. If you don’t have the ability to see beyond what you might think of as a “stupid question” you risk losing the entire project.

That fact is, I often describe myself as being an non-traditional educator. Everything I do, in all my work, involves some sort of education. I just don’t spend that much of my time in what would be considered a traditional classroom. Rather I tend to work one-to-one with partners, co-workers and clients, teaching them skills and helping them move forward with their own abilities. Great teaching — and great work — does not come from a place of arrogance. It comes from a deep understanding of both my own skills and the needs of my clients. They need to understand. They need to learn. They need to be made to feel comfortable and safe so they can take the risks of learning new skills and, in some cases, feeling “stupid” in front of someone else. Arrogance can crush this fragile relationship and leave you wondering where your clients, and your money, went.

Know what you know and know what you don’t know. And know what your clients know and don’t know. Develop your skills and knowledge, but never forget what it feels like to “not know.” Remember how you felt in the past and you will develop a greater knowledge of and empathy with your clients. This then paves the way for great things both you in your own career and for your clients. Educate, illuminate and then create. Your clients need you, your skills and your knowledge.

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