Do you need a consultant, coach, attorney, house cleaner, or other source of professional help? You may have better luck choosing the right person by answering questions a matchmaker might ask. I’m currently interviewing fee-only financial planners. It’s imperative that the person I work with “feels” right, and isn’t turned off when I announce I don’t have millions to invest. Does he seem to like me, anyway? Is she enthusiastic about getting to know me? I can usually tell, within a few minutes of conversation, whether the relationship has potential, based on a feeling of attraction, or positive energy. Could it be that financial planning, coaching, consulting, and other professional partnerships are like dating?
I have turned down people who approach me for coaching, because I sense it won’t work. Although this is difficult to do during times of financial insecurity, when any source of income looks attractive, I’ve learned it’s unwise to allow a strong desire to pay bills overcome my reservations about a relationship.
How do I recognize a bad match? Perhaps a prospective client is not keen on having a coach. Among comments I’ve heard that give me a clue: “coaching is a waste of my time,” “coaches are flakes,” or “I don’t need a coach, but my boss made me call you!” Other coaches may be energized by “hard to get” types, but I’m not excited about wooing a client when the partnership seems doomed from the start.
In contrast, once a high-flying financier was too eager to hire me. He invited me to an exclusive club for lunch, in a beautiful building overlooking one of the Great Lakes. I noticed semi-famous, local VIPs at other tables. He gushed, “you are a communication expert, and I’ve heard you’re really good, so I want you to help me manipulate my clients, and close more deals by saying what people want to hear!” I was speechless for a moment — and admit I was flattered by the “you’re very good” compliment — but I managed to get a grip, and persuaded him that another coach might be a better fit. I got the heebie-jeebies at the prospect of teaching him how to be more manipulative. At least he was honest about his intentions.
Matchmaking is an inexact science — although EHarmony may claim otherwise — and I acknowledge that we must rely in part upon referrals, marketing, and surface-level first impressions, because we are pressed for time. Nevertheless, it pays to ask key questions before jumping into something we may regret. Consider issues of chemistry or comfort with someone who will manage your money, repair an appliance, or facilitate meeting your professional goals.
Here’s a brief sampling of relevant questions, from a workshop I led on consultant/client chemistry. They could be applied to any important relationship:
Do I share attitudes, a philosophy, values, or beliefs with this person? Does he/she seem to have a mission or vision compatible with mine, or will my integrity be compromised in this relationship?
What nonverbal, or vocal/verbal signals –e.g, facial expressions, eye contact, apparent signs of comfort or discomfort, hesitation, or awkward silences — have I noticed about this prospective partner?
If I am to work in this person’s environment, how do I feel about it? Do colleagues seem to like and respect one another, and do they behave professionally? Do I feel depressed when I walk into the front lobby? Does this matter?
Is the client willing to share information, especially what I need to know if I am to serve her needs? Does she seem open and trusting, or defensive and skeptical?
Do I look forward to working with this person? Is my work likely to have a positive impact? Will our partnership be win/win, in the long term?
Bottom line: Is this a good fit? When I think of collaborating with this person, do I feel a sense of “yes” or “no?”