What is the first thing we notice when we meet a new person?
According to a recent Harvard study the first thing our brains notice about a person is gender and race. Everything else follows: appearance, body posture and gesture, eye contact, tone of voice.
Our brains classify information automatically and draw conclusions about the person we have in front of us. After a few seconds we have already created a “profile” of the person which includes assumptions about who they might be according to our stereotypes irrespectively of how open minded or subjective we are. Our mind classifies people in order for us to feel safe in the interaction with the “stranger” and approach or avoid them accordingly.
When we meet a new client and have noticed all of the above we try to find similarities that will help us connect with them. We try to find to which “groups” we both belong; which symbols we both recognize; which style of communication might suit them.
Clothes, watches, pens and the obvious symbols
Trying to find similarities between them and ourselves we make assumptions about their social status, their beliefs and attitude to life.
For instance, if they wear branded clothes and wear an expensive watch we suppose that they belong to a higher social class which usually implies a set of values and ethics that appreciate wealth and a comfortable life.
If they are successful and well known in their business field they probably feel that they have more in common with a person that is equally famous in their practice and they would be better understood.
A middle aged high level executive in a very aggressive conglomerate may be more willing to trust a coach that comes from a similar position and has faced similar challenges in their previous position in business.
Questions beyond assumptions…
At the first meeting with the client we start asking questions; we start exploring the person, their motives and finally why we are there with them. We use questions to get to know the person; how they express themselves; what language they use; what they say and how they say it; how they feel about the conversation.
A conversation with a person reveals their attitude towards us; are they open to share their thoughts? Is there something that they want to know about us and what is that? Do they show stress, anxiety, boredom, interest, preference?
What makes them react immediately? Do they look positive? Retracted? Relaxed? Do they frown? Or smile?
When we watch their body language, tone of voice, face expressions and language we get an idea of how they see us and how they perceive our interaction. Even with a very experienced and trained executive there will be signs that we can decode.
Picking up the positive reactions we can map our strategy to connect with them.
Mirroring their body language, tone of voice and expressions is a relatively safe way to connect with the client at the introductory phase.
Connect like human beings not just for business
Connecting with people has always been a hot topic in the business world and even more in coaching that depends thoroughly on it. Following instructions, rules and methods to connect is very useful and improves our repertoire of behaviours.
From my experience I have seen that mirroring works in every relationship. Smiling is also a great way to connect because it makes people feel less stressed and less threatened.
Mirroring, smiling and showing interest to the client are great ways to connect when we do it genuinely as a result of our intention to communicate with the person and not as a professional technique that looks like acting.
Do you really want to get to know the person in front of you?
Are you truly interested in them?
Do you have an inner need to understand what they think, how they feel, what they need?
Are you there for them to support and encourage them?
All relationships are based on mutual trust. Coaching goes beyond trust; it is a deep relationship. The client will reveal their inner thoughts and feelings, their memories, experiences, failures, fears and dreams. They need a secure and nurturing environment that will allow them to express themselves. The coaching relationship evolves and flourishes with genuine care for the other person as a human being. And this is the perfect matching!