I’ll answer below and in this video:
Give us your answer in the comments and tell us what work/life balance and client relations questions you struggle with and I’ll answer them in future videos. Here goes…
I went wild with this question because it really rang my bell! We sit on one end of the phone and roll our eyes and groan when someone is droning on and we check the lava-slow clock with a “Will I ever get this time back?” internal groan. Okay, put on your seatbelt for some appreciative inquiry and tough love.
I want you to ask yourself why they are talking? When I start to get antsy or feel my clients are ranting and rambling, it usually comes down to three main reasons:
1. They don’t feel heard or understood.
Signs: repeating the same message (even in different ways), listing ideas, comments or requests verbally that they previously communicated in writing. Getting really quiet (on the phone) or disconnecting from the conversation (in person). You might hear comments like, “Oh, well you know what you are doing,” “I guess you know how to handle it best, what do I know?,” or “I guess I’ll have to see it first to see if it will work for me.”
Tools: when you get the sense that you aren’t grokking your client, stop yourself for a moment and acknowledge it. Try saying, “I think I’ve got it now (even if you feel you got it before), you want x, y and z.” Be sure to use their language FIRST and if need be, reframe it in your language or professional jargon, so your client gets how your ideas and theirs connect. Wait. Ask them if you have understood them and continue with an action plan or integration of their requests into the work you are doing. They will breathe a sigh of relief and you will know that’s what caused the verbal diarrhea in the first place.
2. They may be lonely and they feel comfortable enough to seek that kind of connection with you.
Signs: often talking off-topic, drifting to personal reports in odd moments in the conversation or nervously saying things like, “I know this has nothing to do with what we’re talking about, but…” or, “This is probably too much information, but…” or discussing personal stories that are inappropriate (you have to be the judge of how to define this.)
N.B.: I don’t mean a quick check in or simple how-are-yous. I also don’t mean those times when having a genuine, mutual, positive social connection supports the professional relationship and ability for both client and provider to take risks together and do good work. Both of these situations have terrific benefits and I would never discourage them.
Tools: it’s boundary or bail time. Here are some indirect ways to set clean working boundaries on conversations with clients who you suspect might be in this category.
- Set a timeframe on your phone conversations and communicate the talking points before the call.
- Introduce the agenda at the start of the call or meeting and be sure to include consequences if those points are not covered, such as extended deadlines.
- A more direct approach is to call it out loud and proud and say, “I notice that in our conversations, we seem to get off the topic of our work into personal matters. I appreciate what you are going through, but in order to be of service to you and the work, I am going to keep us on the work at hand. Are you available for that?”
- If this doesn’t work or you aren’t able to make progress, it may be time to pull back, limit your conversations, communicate via e-mail only for a while and see if it dissipates.
- If that doesn’t work, look back at how your relationship started and see if you can identify signs that could help you screen out future clients; move on and wish your current client well.
3. They are auditory learners (like I am). This means we talk (and listen) in order to think, learn, decide and make sense out of what we are saying.
Signs: repeating prior conversations that you’ve had with them, saying, “Just let me riff here a minute,” or “I need to think out loud for a moment.” Auditory learners may be heard talking through eight ways to do something before deciding on one or choosing more than one. Some auditory learners have a tough time understanding written correspondence or information that is only provided in written, chart or visual forms.
Tools: if you get a sense that you have a client who is an auditory learner, consider taking notes while they talk, then summarizing what you heard (even in your own order or words). Check in often during a conversation to make sure you are following them. If they (*achem* we) are running long on a riff, make arrangements to interrupt (just say, “May I interrupt for a moment?”) in service to really getting what they are saying.
When you have an idea why they are talking so much, ask yourself what you can do to not only listen but hear what your client needs? Try these strategies out and please report back. Let me know what worked for you and chime in with your bright ideas.
How do YOU deal with talkers? How do you listen best? Leave a comment and/or question in the comments below.
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