The horse industry is very unique when comes to the frequency that a professional hires a fellow professional who’s expertise is so closely related to their own. In most industries, when you hire an expert it’s because you know that you are not an expert and are seeking the help of someone who knows more than you. When a lawyer walks into an accounting firm, they do not waltz through the doors thinking that they know the best way to have their taxes done. They do not come with a list of things that the accountant needs to consider, a portfolio of how their last accountant did it, or a software suggestion that they feel would make their tax preparation better.
It seems obvious that you would not hire an expert and then tell them how to do their job. Now stop and think about how often this happens in the horse world. It happens all the time. In the horse world, everyone is an expert and they all have opinions on processes and products. They all have a story about how they used to do it, how their trainer does it, or what the latest article in Equus recommended. Horse folk do not hire a professional and expect them to know more and wait for their guidance and knowledge. Oh no – horse folk call up the vet after their own diagnosis seems to be amiss, the farrier to tell them that they really think a different type of shoe would be better, and the trainer with a book in hand about how some other well-known horse trainer trains horses.
It really is quite remarkable when you stop to think about it. I always dreaded teaching fellow instructors because they came with an air of skepticism and full of suggestions and ideas. Or what about the farrier who walks into a barn with one of those trainers that’s been working horses for 25 years? The trainer basically tells the farrier how to do his job – I’ve seen it happen more than once. Or what about the massage therapist who is hired by the vet (I’ve been there) and the vet proceeds to direct the therapist about the best way to do their job and describe, in very technical detail, the muscles and biomechanics of the horse.
All of this can really frustrate professionals and leave them wondering, “Why did you even hire me if you know as much or more than I do?” How do you manage the balance between hearing the desires and concerns of a paying client and not feeling bullied to do your job in a specific way? How do you learn to remain professional in this type of environment? How do you ensure that your knowledge and expertise is put to good use when your client feels like they are an expert too?
Though it can be challenging, here are a few tips:
Respect your clients. Though it can be frustrating, you are still interacting with a paying client. There is a line between listening to what they want so that you can deliver the service they desire and feeling bullied to do your job in a specific way. Think about it in terms of getting a haircut. It is expected that you will tell the hairdresser the length and style of hair that you want. However, it is not so appropriate to tell them how to do it, the best tool to use, or the products that they should stock in their store. See the difference? Find the line between the request for what they want and the specific demands about how to do it.
Remain patient. It’s important to not lose your cool or go on the defensive. You want to be able to educate about your process and why you think that it will be beneficial to try doing it your way. Feel confident about your decisions as a professional and have the rationale as to why your client should consider trying it your way. You must remain patient or your explanation and education will come across as condescending or defensive rather than helpful and supportive.
Practice a curious mind. You do not always have to agree with your clients’ decisions or methods but it doesn’t hurt to be curious about what they have to say and why. If you approach your client with an open mind and as though you have an opportunity to learn something, it can be a lot less frustrating when they play the role of expert in your expertise. Ask questions and listen to what they have to say. If they feel like you have heard them, it will also be easier for them to hear your opinions and recommendations.