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The Three Types of Independence You Must Cultivate with Clients

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You need to cultivate and exercise three kinds of independence from your clients:

  1. Intellectual independence. Sometimes, advisors and service providers forget that one of the reasons they are being employed is to provide independent perspectives. They want to be supportive of a client at every stage of the relationship, and sometimes this desire compromises intellectual integrity. If you’re just starting the engagement, you may be afraid that you’ll alienate your client by being too contrary, and if you’re in the midst of a long-term relationship, your personal friendship can also get in the way. Great advisors always find an appropriate way to say what they think. This is harder than it sounds—some clients don’t take bad news gracefully and blame the messenger.
  2. Emotional independence. Every professional knows that working with clients can be an emotional roller coaster. Staying calm and centered while the client or the organization is “hitting the walls” can be difficult. Furthermore, since your livelihood or promotion prospects often hinge on the outcome of your work, you may start to hang on every nuance of mood or emotion that your client expresses. One client, referring to advice professionals in particular, said, “You [as professionals] have a very difficult job. You have to always remain calm and levelheaded, even when the clients you’re working with are being emotional and irrational. You have to be involved, yet detached at the same time.” Strong professionals develop levels of self-esteem and self-confidence that enable them to be independent of the good (or bad) opinions of others, including their clients.
  3. Financial independence. Advisors have to cultivate a mindset of independent wealth. The best advisors are highly paid, but they act as though they are not being paid and don’t really need the money. If you are feeling financially needy and allow this need to intrude on your intellectual and emotional independence, you’re lost. An anonymous advisor once counseled, “Never act hungry—it makes people want to stop on the street and kick you.”
     

Independence is essential for several important reasons. First, and most importantly, it builds trust. Think about it: If you feel someone is just telling you what they think you want to hear, their advice is useless. Imagine you’re shopping for a new suit or dress and the salesperson tells you that every one you try on looks fabulous on you. They have no credibility.

So when you have this quality of tough love, it makes clients trust you and want to draw you into their inner circle.

Secondly, If the client knows you are a straight shooter and will only tell them what you really believe, your words will always carry more weight. So for example, if you suggest a follow on project, your client—whether or not they want to do it—will at least believe you honestly think it’s best and are not influenced by the money.

Finally, when you convey the gravitas and equilibrium that selfless independence gives you, it sets you apart from other run-of the mill sales people, account executives, and other professionals.

What independence dilemmas have you faced?

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