Who do you do your best work with?
No matter what your role, it seems that if you work with people, there are always some you connect better with than others.
- Teachers who feel a stronger affinity with certain grade levels
- Therapists who produce better outcomes with clients with particular concerns
- Health professionals who specialise in working with certain conditions
- Admin staff who relate to some customers better than others
This is not unusual. We know from the research that even if you have great people skills, you will still only connect well with about 85% of people. Nor is it written down anywhere that we should be able to work well with all the various personalities, learning difficulties, personal and health challenges that come our way.
Yes we can lift our game, gain further support or training, and simply put up with some challenges associated with our work. But the more we allow ourselves to work with those people with whom do our best work, the more we enjoy our work and the better outcomes we achieve.
I must be a slow learner. For many years as a counsellor, I thought there was something wrong with me when I found some of my clients very hard work while other professionals loved working with those same clients. For a time, I simply persevered, undertook further training, and kept struggling with certain types of clients.
It took me a while to work out that I didn’t have to be all things to all people – that it was OK that I worked better with certain types of people and situations than I did with others.
If you work with people in a service, teaching, health, or helping role, it can often help to think of the people we work with as A, B, C and D clients:
Firstly, there are our A customers / students / clients. These are the people we love to work with and with whom we do our best work. The behaviours typical of A clients vary, depending on our role.
For people in service roles, their A customers are pleasant to speak to, are respectful, and listen to the information being given to them. For health professionals, their A clients turn up for appointments, are motivated to help themselves, and, in private practice, they also pay their account on time!
Then there are our B clients. These people have some, but not all the qualities of our A clients. The task with these people is to have honest, often ongoing conversations, so they are clear about the behaviours needed from them to become A clients and achieve the goals that are important to them.
I recall one Admin team in a health agency that dealt with more than its fair share of aggressive patients. Over time, they reduced much of this behaviour by communicating clear expectations to their patients. Apart from ongoing conversations with individuals, they also had a sign in the waiting room that said, “Please treat us with respect. This will help us to help you.”
There are also our C clients. These are people who do not want to work with us. Every teacher knows the frustration of students who do not want to be in class or participate in a particular activity. Therapists also work with clients who do not want to be there, who are compelled by others to attend. Our task with these clients is to engage and motivate them.
Teachers do so by building a positive relationship with these students, providing need-satisfying learning, and a positive classroom environment. Therapists engage their clients by building a relationship of trust and finding out their clients really care about, what is really motivating for them, and see if they are prepared to work together on achieving this.
Then there are our D clients. These are the people we do not want to work with. We find them especially difficult and frustrating to work with, and we don’t tend to produce very good outcomes with these types of people.
Our task with these clients is to refer these clients to someone else – preferably someone who regards them as A or B clients. Fortunately, a D client for us can be an A client for someone else. I remember some of my colleagues who were more than happy to refer to me couples and workmates in conflicted relationships – people I did my best work with.
If you can’t refer your D clients, you may be able to gain extra support or training to work more easily with them. You might also be in a position where you can limit the number of D clients you take on at any one time.
Some teachers attempt to do this when they are negotiating classes for the coming year. They try to ensure they only have a certain number of students with learning difficulties or behaviour challenges.
The reality for many of us is that we don’t have complete control over who we work with – we need to work with C and D clients as well as the A’s and B’s.
But we can at least promote to our colleagues and referrers who our A clients are. That way we get to do more of the work that plays to our strengths. Not to mention produce better outcomes with more of our clients. There is nothing wrong with specialising when this is possible.
It is also a good idea to let the right people know who we do our worst work with. We might be able to negotiate with our manager to limit the number of D clients we take on at any one time.
If you have control over who you work with, you might also have to be firm – refusing to take on people who are D clients for you, instead referring them to someone else. I assure you, that you will be doing the client, as well as yourself, a favour.
If you are in a role where just about all of the people you work with are D clients and you are unable to make any changes, here you need to take action to get yourself into another role before you have a health crisis or breakdown!
Ultimately, if you want to enjoy your work more and produce even better outcomes with people, you need to answer for yourself the following questions:
- Who do you do your best and worst work with?
- What can you do so you can do more of the work that plays to your strengths?