Service Minded

Debra Helwig on Marketing & Leadership in Professional Services

The Teaching Moment: Relationship Builder or Dealbreaker?

Posted by debrahelwig on November 9, 2009

peach jamOne of my guilty pleasures in life is making homemade jam.

Few things make me happier than spending hours chopping and dicing peaches or strawberries, then stirring and stirring that boiling pot of fruit and sugar until the smell fills the whole house. Oh, the simple beauty of those little gemlike jars of goodness lined up in perfect order on the countertop. Bliss. Unadulterated, yummy, creative bliss.

But teaching a group of my friends how to do it, one summer a while back? Um. Wow. Huge lack of bliss there.

Important point – it wasn’t their fault. All my friends are plenty smart. And they showed up on time that day, with the right equipment, ready to learn. But when I worked with them, my usual bliss experiment wasn’t so blissful. It was work. Hard work. None of us had any fun at all. I was so disappointed – but at that moment, I couldn’t for the life of me figure out why things went wrong.

Then, just recently, I read these two beautiful little tweets from @carl_ingalls:

When you teach or advise, let people discover things. Don’t tell them all the answers.

and

When people discover an answer, the knowledge becomes theirs.

AHHHHHH.

Reading those tweets made me think about my jam problem on that afternoon so long ago. And I realized something pretty embarrassing.

That fateful day, from the minute my friends set their bags of peaches on the counter, I’d told every single one of them exactly what to do without telling them why. I’d said super lofty (and, dangit, super stupid) things like “No! What are you doing?,” usually followed by snatching the spoon out of someone’s hand and completing the task myself.

How utterly asenine of me.

So WHAT if there had been a lot of questions, a lot of false starts, a lot of mistakes? We could have laughed about them. It might have made us closer, a real “remember when” event. We might still have been laughing about it – over a jar of  THEIR homemade jam – 20 years from now.

But nooooo. I was a lot more worried about looking smart and being the expert than having fun and building on my relationships. And I lost an opportunity. A big one.  You can bet none of them wanted me to teach them anything for quite a while after that. Fortunately, they’ve forgiven me since. But they’re good friends and I’m a lucky gal.

Now, my question to you:

Are you making my “jam” mistake in your business relationships?

Are you more concerned with showing off your impressive credentials and sharing your hard-earned expertise than understanding what your clients and potential clients want to know?

Every time you come into contact with a client or potential client, you have the opportunity to help them grow. To build a relationship. To lead them to new knowledge without preaching at them. To be helpful without needing to look smart. Are you taking advantage of those opportunities? Or are you wasting your time just snatching the spoon away, so you can show them what an expert you are?

Your clients might not be as gracious as my friends are. There’s no promising they’ll give you a second chance.

These days, I’m a lot more mindful about how I share what I know. And the difference in all my relationships – both professional and personal – is astounding.

How can you use your knowledge to build and strengthen relationships with the people who need your advice?

Photo by Kfergos (license)

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3 Responses to “The Teaching Moment: Relationship Builder or Dealbreaker?”

  1. Carl Ingalls said

    Debra,

    Thank you for a very well written article. The lesson you learned is a very difficult one for all of us “experts”. I began to discover it about 2 years ago, and I constantly have to catch myself and remember the importance of discovery.

    I am still studying this, and learning how to apply it better. I have discovered that my clients are far more likely to benefit from my advice if I don’t tell them what to do.

    Carl Ingalls, @Carl_Ingalls

    • Much appreciated, Carl – and thank YOU for the “teaching moment” through your tweets several weeks ago.

      And that’s another great lesson…sometimes you reach unintended audiences with your messages. Never assume that no one is listening – even if the payoff/reply/thanks isn’t instantaneous. Sometimes it takes time for a good idea to percolate and make its way back into the world. (And sometimes you might not even know that it did – but that’s OK too.)

      Debra

  2. Jane Brown said

    Debra, you aptly describe the discovery method of instruction — which works beautifully when readers / students are open to learning and perhaps looking for such opportunities. Enjoyed your article!

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