I met “Jane” in early 2010, when I decided to treat myself to massage (among my favorite splurges). She had her quirks, but I appreciated her long experience, unpretentious personality, and reasonable rates. To me she was like a well-meaning, goofy aunt, whose idiosyncrasies I let slide.
For example, she’s routinely late. Not 10 or 15 minutes, but up to 45 minutes or more. She drives to Vancouver from Port Moody and something always delays her: dealing with household matters, getting stuck with an outcall client, traffic and parking. Now, I’m not always punctual myself (and I sometimes relish an excuse to read while I wait), but her long delays stress me out. Rule #1: Don’t be late.
As massage therapist and client, our personalities aren’t always complementary. For some reason, I am sometimes keyed up, even agitated, before a massage (maybe because I’ve been waiting forever!). She reacts to my high-key energy with similar energy, which isn’t an ideal prelude to massage. Rule #2: Don’t feed off a client’s moods.
What led to our falling-out was an extremely irrelevant and personal comment that she made. It had nothing to do with the massage or my health. I was nonplussed at her indiscretion. In the past, she had occasionally asked unnecessary questions out of the blue, probably to foster closeness. But this was too much. Rule # 3: Take cues from the client regarding familiarity and personal topics.
In the moment, I shrugged off her comment with silence. But later it bothered me. “This is exactly why I can’t recommend her to others,” I thought. “She has no sense of professionalism.” So I told her. She felt terrible, apologized for poor judgment, and explained that she thought that we knew each other well, that we were friendly.
Are we friendly? Yes. Are we friends? No. Friendship can develop between professional and client, but it must not be instigated by the professional. My primary priority: to exchange money for an excellent massage. Rule #4: Assume that clients are seeking a professional, not a friend.
I had eight sessions left on my pre-paid, multi-session-discount card, and she wouldn’t consider a refund. “You know I don’t have money,” she said. Yes, she’d often mentioned her financial straits, how she has a list of expert credit repair companies on speed dial, her late husband, the kooky tenants she took in to make her mortgage payments, etc. Such disclosures made us closer as people. But how much detail should a professional reveal? And does such conversation belong the midst of a massage? Rule #5: Keep your personal problems to yourself, especially while on the job.
In our back and forth over how to proceed, she mentioned several times that she’d often given me extra time before. Yes, she has given me longer sessions than the paid-for amount. But, with a late start, the extra time wasn’t always ideal. If already 45 minutes late, an extra 25 minutes of massage increased the delay well over an hour. More important, why bring up favors, whether extra time or a free consultation? She gave me extra time. I never asked for it! Rule #6: If you give a client a bonus, consider it a gift. The client doesn’t owe you a reciprocal favor.
For a while I was irked that she, perhaps in her early 60s, was clueless about such essential rules of professionalism. Why was I wasting time and energy debating obvious points? Massage was adding stress to my life! But I knew that she meant well and I turned the page. Since the incident, I’ve used up two more massages. It’s back to normal between us. I haven’t decided whether I’ll continue when the card runs out.
As for professionalism, what does it mean anyway? Nowadays the lines between professionals and clients/patients/students are fuzzy. We know so much about others through Facebook, blogs, online bios and CVs, private conversations blurted into public cell phones. Professionals are expected to be chatty and approachable, else be considered old-school or aloof.
We who are hired as professionals must find our natural balance between friendliness and discretion. But one thing is obvious: be a professional first.