Assuming you meet your client in a business environment and your client knows nothing about you, how would you present yourself?
The obvious answer or what most of us do is “I’m (your name) and I’m A (your role).
It’s very helpful and time saving to be able to express one or two words that put together the activities that one performs in their job.
Roles have been created to make it easier for people to get a glimpse of what our service is about. As a bonus, our email signatures look very nice and clean.
But, the more the role gets known, the heavier it becomes as it gets charged with everyone’s opinions.
Think about teachers. Everyone knows what a teacher is. Our parents and grandparents had teachers so we all know what that is, right?
And, just because this role has become so solid, set in stone even, the educational system has not evolved in decades. Children today are taught the same things that we and even our grandparents have been taught.
How is that possible when the world has evolved so much and there are so many new things to be learned?
Because there is this strong formed idea that “they are teachers so they are supposed to X“ so “X” is what they do while they suffer and grieve as they bury their creativity under a defective system.
Now, by contrast, think about a role that most people don’t really know what it means. A coach for example. People have had experiences with many types of coaches depending on the area where they needed support and guidance: sports, life, business, relationships etc.
However, if you ask someone what a coach is they will only describe their experience with a particular coach.
Even if they will think they know exactly what a coach is based on their experience, they can not describe this role in an accurate and clear manner because every coach is completely unique. Every coach adapts to unique conversations in the moment.
So even if roles are useful, they literally only serve a small talk.
When it comes to building and nourishing a work relationship with our clients, not only that they become useless but they can completely disrupt the collaboration.
The stronger someone’s role has been created in our minds, the less attention remains for us to focus on what they need in the situation we are in. It makes sense since we think we already know.
But that’s a false knowing. It’s false because it is based on an assumption. The assumption that our mind has created about that role during the years based on what other people think, based on our past and our fears for the future.
The same mind where everything is archived under the label “this type of person” (very dangerous label by the way).
The truth is, nobody believes deep within that they are just this one thing they have expressed to you. They know that, besides leading a team or a whole company, the moment they get out of the door, they have another million things to do for themselves or even their families.
There is no one word that may express who they are and yet, there are millions of ways to express what they do.
When we start collaborating with a client and we have a clear idea of their role we will end up being very surprised how quickly this changes and how easy the relationship becomes very difficult.
All of the sudden, we don’t recognize our client and we think it is because they have changed but, in many cases, they are just showing us that the box we put them in, the one with a clear label on, doesn’t fit the richness of expressions a human can have.
All of the sudden they get angry and complain but when we first met them they looked like such a nice person to work with. Or viceversa.
At the same time, we do need a sense of stability and we know it is very difficult to work with people that change their moods and minds at every step of the way.
And that is the right time when we drop the roles and, on a completely new page, we work on defining the responsibilities of each party.
Responsibilities that we can come back to at any time. This is not about setting in stone rules. It is about defining what each party commits to.
And, while these may remain flexible as they get re-defined during the collaboration, the commitment to both work towards the same goal and walk in the same direction will be the foundation of a strong and profitable relationship.
A strong and profitable relationship where nobody feels the pressure to be SOME thing and both work for the SAME thing.
You, as a service provider, transform from being A service provider to being THE service provider for your client because you were able to hear what they need and you didn’t put all the pressure on you to satisfy these needs because you know that, as in any other relationship, there are two parties involved.
In this sense, roles are just an old trend that helped built hierarchies and we all know that didn’t lead to anything good so we might as well start doing things differently and take on the responsibilities that are right for us and allow others to do the same.