Not all truths are self-evident…

Here’s a true story from the other night that I’m going to masquerade as a lesson in listening to your clients and understanding their perspectives. Mostly, though, I just think it’ll provide you with some entertainment at my expense.

In this case, the client is my eight-year-old daughter and the application is a homework assignment. The feature under consideration: If you could be any person in history, who would it be and why? (Side note: It’s telling that a question from a grade three assignment is also featured prominently on the Miss America Pageant.)

Client: I want to be Samantha
Superior Consultant: Who?
Client: Samantha, the American Girl from the 1800s
SC: I think they need you to put down a *real* person. Like Santa Claus or the Tooth Fairy or Chevy Chase.
Client: She’s a real person! Her parents died when she was young and her grandparents raised her and she spent her summers at her granny and grampa’s estate in New England and had lots of adventures!
SC: Honey…she’s just a doll someone made up to make money. Like Barbie except not as pneumatically proportioned. Wouldn’t you rather be Janis Joplin?

At this point, the stunned client suddenly ran upstairs and went to her room. I didn’t think much of it so I let her work things out in her head for a little while.

After twenty minutes or so, I went up and heard sobbing from the other side of the door. Cautiously entering the room, the first thing I noticed is a pad of paper on her desk. At the top of the page, she had written: "American Girls are not real." Except that she crossed out Girls and wrote Dolls in its place.

She followed this up with "American Dolls are not real" which she wrote another 37 times down the page a la Jack Torrence. I know it was 37 times because she numbered each and every instance. At this point, the sobs sounded less like "My daddy won’t let me do my homework the way I want" and more like "Everything I have ever known is a DIRTY, TREACHEROUS LIE!" I slumped downstairs and quietly informed Mrs. Hillbilly that she had to clean something up while I fed some more money into the Rainy Day Psychiatric Fund.

There are a number of lessons to be learned here, the first of which is: never help your children with their homework.

Only slightly less important is: Don’t mess with your client’s belief system. Granted, in my experience, only about 15% of clients will run away crying like little girls if you disagree with something they believe fundamentally to be true. But even the ones that don’t will harbour some form of resentment. And any good will you’ve amassed won’t always be bought back easily (although in my case, all that was required was $30 and a batch of fresh-baked cookies).

By the way, I later learned that American Girls *are* actually based on real people.

Kyle the Parental

This entry was posted in Sundry. Bookmark the permalink. Follow any comments here with the RSS feed for this post.
  • Kyle Baley

    @Evan: Had I known I would have crushed her hopes and dreams so flippantly, I would have gone one better and let the missus help her with her homework instead.

  • http://lazycoder.com Scott

    “By the way, I later learned that American Girls *are* actually based on real people.”

    So the tertiary lesson could be: No matter how long you’ve been consulting/programming, no matter where you blog and how many readers you have, no matter how many speaking engagements you’ve had with lots of people in the audience, no matter how many books you’ve written, and no matter what your job title is, you still might not know everything. ;)

  • http://www.evanhoff.com/ Evan

    Sometimes a leading question or two can do the trick without all the resentment. If they can reach the conclusion on their own, it takes the pressure off you.

  • DaRage

    Good post Kyle. I sure experienced that.

  • http://www.blogcoward.com jdn

    Awesome. Great analogy.

  • Tom

    A very good lesson indeed.