When I have had the happy, if indulgent, privilege of people describing my professional work with them, one of the things people have said is that I am ‘easy to work with’. Doesn’t sound particularly ground-breaking, and to be honest it wasn’t something that I initially thought had much commercial value. It’s not a usual testimonial type thing for people to say in a professional environment and yet there is something about the comment that seemed to fit comfortably with me, to the extent that I suspect it is part of my particular value proposition or brand.
I recently read an old classic (A Way of Being) from Carl Rogers one of the most influential clinical psychologists of last century via his 200+ publications on person-centred therapy. His (at face value unrelated) thoughts on clinical therapy have helped me understand the considerable advantage that being ‘easy to work with’ can offer.
Workplaces often demand that people act and relate as a parody of their profession. In other words, they feel obligated to present a ‘professional front’ as their primary demeanour. Now, to be clear, professionalism is good, and having implicit and explicit rules of engagement is mostly a positive and stabilizing thing. But I have always reacted negatively to the way many corporate workplaces squeeze the humanity from people in the service of organisational performance.
For reference, Rogers’ three characteristics of a person-centred approach to therapy are:
- Genuineness: most easily expressed via transparency on the part of the therapist, demonstrating that they are authentically relationally engaged.
- Caring or prizing: unconditional positive regard for the client
- Empathetic understanding: accurate sensing of the feelings and meanings by the therapist of the client.
What does this look like in the workplace? A consultant is not a therapist, but I think there are some parallels – at least I feel some in my bones. Following Rogers three characteristics;
Firstly, I unashamedly take myself to work. I do not mind people knowing who I am, how I am feeling, what my vulnerabilities are. What I am not talking about is an inappropriate ‘gushiness’ that does not give due regard to the purpose of a particular conversation. I am talking about value that does not compartmentalise my professional competency into a persona divorced from the rest of my life.
Secondly, my default posture toward people is positive. Rather than holding people at arms length, I choose to believe they are trying their best and have the best interests of the whole in mind. Even when it might appear their contribution is less than helpful, I still relate to them with the assumption that their behaviour makes perfect sense to them. The problem is the different perspective on what makes sense, rather than an intentional incompetence or destructiveness.
Thirdly, given I am delivering a service, I see it as my role to understand, as best I can, the aspirations, fears and expectation of my client, especially in the early phases of a project. This means lots of questions, regular communication and a relentless commitment to seek to see the world through the eyes of the client.
Perhaps it is an inclination toward these ways of being that go some way to developing trust and long term relationships with clients.