There has never been a time in my 63 plus years of life when it felt like we were drowning in words. We e-mail, tweet, post, blog, send, forward, save, edit, create, copy, paste, delete, and share words at an alarming rate. The fact you are reading this discussion bears witness to this vexing but apparently inescapable phenomenon.
When it comes to our clients, the words we use are either nouns—think static, sound, bland—or they are verbs—think active, living, hands on, doing. This is never more profound than when we express compassion and empathy. Is the care you convey to clients descriptive or dynamic, sounds or behaviors, terms, or actions?
Though I have said it before and yes, at times still say it, would someone tell me what “I’ll be thinking about you” means? Does thinking about another person float over the ether, cell signal, or internet to the person of our cogitation imbuing them with . . . what? Sounds good on the speaker’s ears, but really, what is the connection between thinking and care? Does the recipient even receive those thoughts? While much has been written on the subject of positive thinking, thoughts alone cannot hold a hand or look a person in the eye with sympathy.
Reflect on a moment when life’s horizon looked threatening, bleak, and lonely. Did anyone’s “thinking about you” awaken in you the courage to walk toward that vista with greater purpose, resolve, or hope? My guess is that when those menacing moments came—as they do for us all—a new resolve welled up in your soul because another person listened to you, sat with you, met you for coffee, sent you an uplifting card or a brief note all of which turned care into a verb.
What if we connected with our clients being more verb-al than verbal? We’ve all heard the phrase, “all talk and no action.” Let us now resolve to be “less thought and more action.” To pull that off, we must put flesh on the bones of words, infusing presence into the script of an otherwise ho-hum afternoon of calls when the markets turn ugly. The key is recognizing the cues sent our way in the back and forth of a conversation. What would those be?
Start with a change in the sound and cadence of your voice when you first exchange greetings. We have a client who has the uncanny ability to read my moods when we get on the phone. Sometimes he misreads my emotions, but often he is spot-on. “Tim, you sound a bit down today.” He was right. When I called, I was down. A close friend and client had passed away and I was still processing that grief. My voice gave me away.
Prepare yourself for those first moments when you hear another on the phone. If you detect a change in the voice, find a way to ask, “Is something going on you need to share with me?” Listen with ear and heart, creating a safe place to talk. Drop the business purpose of the call, focus on the other, and listen. Go back in your own past to a time when someone read you and how he or she turned care into verbs. Then say, “I feel like we need to see each other. How would you feel if I stopped by this afternoon or we met for coffee? I think you need a friend.” In that transition, you move from noun to verb, clichés to connection.
Last, and perhaps most important, hone the craft of the visit. We spend so much time behind our desk, making and receiving calls, writing and responding to emails, and doing the needed administrative tasks that never end. We forget that our job is and will always be people-focused, care-driven, and punctuated with a warm and genuine human touch. Make care a verb. Catch yourself as I do attempting to make ourselves feel better by the “thinking about you” phrases, and stay close to the people you serve in those moments when they most need a verb.