How Not to Impose Your Values on Clients

If your values seem judgmental, it may cause your client to stop talking -- or buying.
i Andrea Morini/Digital Vision/Getty Images

Value conflicts can and do happen in the workplace. No matter how dedicated to doing your job you are, sometimes a client walks in wanting your assistance with something that goes against every fiber of your being. But, until you are fantastically successful you can't pick and choose your clients, and imposing your values on them risks at best losing them, and at worst really hurting them.

Know Yourself

You already know what your hot button issues are, of course, but Rhonda Williams, writing for the American School Counselor Association, suggests that you need to look a little deeper to figure out how your biases might affect your job performance. For example, a designer who is passionate about environmental causes might fail to even look at products from companies that aren't green enough in her opinion. Should her clients find out later there was a product available that better met their needs at a lower cost, she might have some explaining to do. To avoid this, Williams suggests taking stock of what's important to you. Make a list of things that you have bias towards and then consciously acknowledge that bias so you can work towards overcoming it.

Focus on Doing Your Job

Your job, no matter your title, is to help your client meet goals according to her values. Counselors and social workers have this drilled into them from day one, but it's true in all fields. Just as a counselor who doesn't personally believe in divorce must help a woman leave her husband, a real estate agent must focus on her client's values in choosing a neighborhood, and a writing teacher must focus on the mechanics of an essay no matter how deplorable she finds the topic. It's that narrow focus on the goal that will help you. Ask your client what she wants and help her get it, all the while reminding yourself it's not about you. The client will feel validated and successful and hopefully will refer more clients to you so that you can feel validated and successful too.

Listen to Your Client

Listen to what your client really wants. In her California State University, Northridge course on interviewing and counseling, psychologist Sheila Grant advises that making the effort to really understand your client's values enables you to better understand what she needs from you. Just listen. Don't share your values or opinions. Ask questions about why she feels the way she does only if you need a deeper understanding to find common ground or to understand what she needs in terms of her values. This will help you help her, and that's more important than furthering your cause or changing her mind.

When to Refer

Sometimes no amount of listening, learning or focusing on your client helps. If your values clash so profoundly with your client's that you feel sick when her appointment nears or her goals seem truly abhorrent to you, it's time to refer. But, be careful with how you do it. Experts such as Williams advise you to assure your client that you are referring her to someone "better equipped" to meet her particular needs and that you will be available to work as a team if needed. This communicates that you are taking the best possible care of her rather than you can't stand to work with her a minute more. Even if the latter is true, you don't want to hurt her - or your reputation as a competent professional. After all, a Facebook post about how helpful you were in matching her with the perfect person to get her needs met is so much better than one about how judgmental you were.

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