What makes for a good professional relationship? Whether a therapist, a coach, a lawyer, an executive,,,, there are some basic ground rules that should apply to anyone that you hire to work with you. Recently there have been some scenarios that people have shared with me that are astonishing and disturbing since one “would” have thought that there are certain givens that are the essence of professionalism. Apparently not. My focus isn’t on competence, experience, or technique; those are very important topics, reserved for another day. I’m thinking much, much more basic. Some of these are REALLY particular to coaching and therapy because of the nature of the helping profession, but they transcend into all kinds of situations where a person is seeking the counsel and expertise of another.
I think the reason this grinds me so much is that in all the situations recently reported to me, the clients were deeply disturbed by the situation but didn’t confront or leave the professional; they bent over backwards to make their own impressions wrong or give the “prof” another chance. NOOOOO!!!! There are times to trust your gut, exercise righteous indignation, and get out. If any of the following should happen to you, it’s truly ok to get the heck out of there, no matter how many degrees are on the wall.
NOT STAYING AWAKE: Not metaphorically, REALLY staying awake as opposed to falling asleep. I used to think this was just a bad joke but I can’t believe how often I’m told of Profs literally falling asleep on their clients. To me, this is an example of poor self care and self awareness as well as robbery of the client.
TALKING ABOUT THEMSELVES: It’s one thing for the Prof to share an occasional, relevant anecdote to highlight that their really listening and can relate to what you’re saying but it’s a very different story when the Prof goes on and on about themselves and you’re sitting there wondering if they should be paying you.
TALKING ABOUT OTHERS: There are many professions where this is the most heinous breach of confidentiality but it happens, a lot. Whether it is the Prof on the phone talking about another client by name in your presence or blatantly talking about someone else’s issues – it’s ethically shameful.
NOT BEING TIMELY: Things happen, life happens, we can’t all be ruled by the clock but there is importance in feeling that your time is valuable too. This relates to feeling that the Prof is showing up for you as well as adhering to the time that you both contracted to meet.
NOT BEING FOCUSED: It’s important to feel as a client that your Prof is really present and not distracted by intrusive phone calls, text messages, other people dropping in on your time, opening the mail. I once had a doctor sit in front of me and open his mail while meeting me for the first time and taking a verbal history; that never happened again.
FAULTY BOUNDARIES: Sometimes your first clue to this is subtle, a body reaction; a twinge in the pit of your stomach that alerts you that “something’s not right here.” Or, it can be downright blatant. It can show itself as a feeling that the Prof is being overly personal, overly friendly, a feeling that their being sexually provocative. Or, it can be a situation where, as the client, you are being asked to do something for the Prof that is inappropriate and uncomfortable.
I’d love to hear from people about their experiences. We give so much power to people we hold in esteem as authorities and sadly, it’s too often abused.