When There’s No Pretending That the Client is Right…or Are They?

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Photo credit: Derek Gavey

There are more than a few holes in the old adage that “the customer is always right.”

These cognitive distortions can negatively impact the relationships you have with your clients, not to mention how you ultimately view yourself. Here are a few tips for avoiding this stinkin’ way of thinkin’.

Soldier or Scout?

A recent TED Talk by decision-making expert Julia Galef addresses the fork in the cognitive road when it comes to reacting to another person’s judgment: should you sound off or hold back. Understanding your role in the situation at hand is crucial to answering this question. Parallel to the physical fight or flight response that occurs during conflict, your brain is determining whether you are a soldier or a scout in every situation without your input. You can take these reins back by asking yourself is your need as a planner to protect yourself, your team and your business from the “enemy” or are you supposed to go out and map the terrain and report back on what’s out there?

Motivated Reasoning

Like it or not, unconscious motives, fears and desires are constantly peeking out from beneath the depths and directing our approaches toward decision-making. It’s a phenomenon referred to by psychologists as motivated reasoning because we use it to hand-select pieces of information in any given situation that reaffirm our own ideas and beliefs. In short, our judgment is influenced by which side we want to win. Countering motivated reasoning is a difficult job as our sense of logic is so closely bound to experience (you already know how “xxx” is going to work out so why blaze another course?). Key to avoiding this mental trap is to acknowledge it and remember that the definition of event success is as subjective as your logic. Get all stakeholders involved in the process.

Is your need as a planner to protect yourself, your team and your business from the enemy or are you supposed to go out and map the terrain and report back on what’s out there?

When “How smart are you?” and “How much do you know?” No Longer Apply

For all the detail that goes into planning events, the end result is often a feeling. Getting into senseless debates during the planning process that challenge your client’s intellect or logic is often pointless. In the end, people remember how you make them feel. Instead of allowing motivated reasoning to kick-start your conversations, find a way to sense the possibility of a moment; to feel intrigued by the constraints that the client may have on your process.

Pivoting the “Wrongologist”

It’s human nature to misunderstand the signs around us and then react to our own unbeknown folly. Why does this happen? Contrary to all the modern-day advice that encourages us to be here now, self-described “wrongologist” Kathryn Schulz says it has a little something to do with being trapped in the present moment. We’re usually wrong before we realize we’re wrong and before we know it, “abstract appreciation of fallibility goes out the window.” You were always heading for that cliff; always heading in the wrong direction, but it wasn’t until you fell off the edge that you realized you should have made a left at the bend in the road. That confident jog toward the edge felt good though didn’t it? It felt safe. And that’s what we’re seeking. Safety. Navigating your way through tricky conversations with your client means learning how to pivot away from your own inner wrongologist and your sense of intellectual safety. It’s not always enough to trust yourself. Sometimes you have to trust others too.


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