It was a first conversation with a new potential client. He was referred by a friend. We’d never talked before.
Five minutes earlier, in the kitchen, my fiancé and I were in an unsettling confrontation, which I was responsible for starting at the worst possible time. (Oops.)
With one minute before the top of the hour, I took a deep breath into the rawness of my feelings and tried to collect myself.
I logged onto Zoom and said hello. I asked him how he was doing and he shared his passion for authentic relating and his dreams for his coaching business.
I wished I could be fully present for his excitement, but my head was still spinning. And I knew that (being an attuned guy and all) he could feel it, at least on an unconscious level.
So I really had no choice but to speak up and said “Hey, I'm sorry to interrupt. I have to be honest. Five minutes before our call started I got in a fight with my fiancé and I'm having trouble being fully present. Let’s reschedule this call for a time when I can fully appreciate and feel your beautiful vision.”
I paused. He asked, “So how can I support you?”
I said “Oh no, this call is about you. We can just reschedule it.”
And he says, “No really. I'm happy to support you. I can feel you're hurting.”
I contemplated his offer for a few moments, and said “Well, this is highly unusual.” I laughed. “Are you sure?”
He says “Yes. I’m all yours.”
Okay then. I moved onto the couch and started telling the story of what happened. He coached me through the miscommunication and the pain of disconnection. I was crying.
(Keep in mind this is now about 10 minutes into my relationship with a man who wanted my help as a business coach.)
Tables are turned, sucker! ;-)
Just kidding. I was completely humbled by the role reversal.
For the next 20 minutes. I went deeper into it and he held space beautifully. When the piece of work felt complete, I said “Well. The good news is I’ve now gotten a taste of your coaching and how skilled you are.”
We rescheduled the sales conversation.
Coming down from that experience, I was understandably a bit sheepish, thinking “Well, it turned out okay. Oddly great for me, actually. But I’m pretty sure I’ve messed up my chance of having him as a client.”
The next time we talked, I was actually fit to coach.
I asked him to start from the beginning and share his dream again. From a space of clarity, I fully felt and held his vision with him. It was gorgeous.
When I asked him what he was looking for in a business coach, he said “The first thing I'm looking for is someone who I trust. Who is able to feel me and attune to me deeply. Who isn't trying to insist that I do business in the one way that worked for them, but will instead meet me and design a strategy with me.”
Shivers went down my arms. I could not have better described my values and how I most love working with my clients.
I smiled and told him “Well, our experience the other day was definitely not what I planned. But if one good thing came of it, I imagine you have a felt sense of who I am and know that I'm not afraid to be in honest connection with you and follow the flow.”
He smiled too. I could sense that he had the same thought before I said it. Whatever “expert status” I lost in our first conversation was clearly made up for by the intimacy we quickly stumbled into.
(Not that I would ever plan to do such a thing again. But it all turned out perfectly. He ended up saying “yes” to being a client of mine, and it’s been a joy working with him from this radically honest foundation.)
If there were a lesson to this whole story, it would be to trust that how you are in any moment is perfect.
Of course, do everything you can to resource yourself before sessions. And manage your own state as best you can so you can be fully present for your clients. But at the same time, trust those occasional moments when life isn’t happening as planned.
Have the courage to be honest about naming the elephant in the room that your client can feel anyway. We are so much more sensitive than we let on. Just naming what is true for you will often create a sense of relief for both of you.
There are many such elephants that can wander into a coaching relationship, like “I’m starting to be concerned that you’re not making significant progress towards your goals. Want to talk about what’s going on?” or “I want to apologize for what I said last session about XYZ. It wasn’t quite right. What I meant to say was…” or “We’ve been working together for over two years now, I’ve raised my rates significantly in this time, and I realize I need to talk with each of my long-term clients about what they’re paying so I can make a more sustainable livelihood. Are you open to that?”
And while it's never appropriate to initiate a role reversal with your clients, or suggest that they take care of you, this story clearly shows that magic can happen when you “get right” with your own vulnerability.
You are not a faceless service-providing robot. You are a living, breathing, human being with feelings, desires, and intuitions. Your vulnerability is not only okay, but it is the source of insights that can be profoundly useful and healing for your clients and you. Vulnerability, done well, is a “win-win.”
There are many times in life I’ve regretted not being vulnerable and speaking what’s true for me.
There are also times when I’ve regretted how I’ve communicated something vulnerable, usually because I didn’t fully go for it and mixed fear and expectation into the conversation.
But not once have I regretted being truly vulnerable.
It hasn’t always ended in me “winning” like this, but at the very least, it has freed my soul and opened deeper connection with others, which always pays off in the end.
I so deeply wish the same for you. Go forth and be vulnerable!
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Share a moment of vulnerability on this thread, and let’s celebrate it together!