What if we treated our colleagues as we treat our most valued customers?

By Elisabeth Goodman, 28th September 2021

We have a module on communication skills that we include in RiverRhee’s management training courses, and also as part of our Effective Influencing and Communication course. Delegates often tell us that they would like more scenarios to learn from, so I decided to include a bit of a role play in my management course last week. It wasn’t difficult, as the people there had customer facing roles.

I had them simulate two conversations, one with the perfect customer, the other with one who was being difficult. Their skills were superb!

I asked them to tell me what they had noticed:

  • They sought to understand the situation straight-away
  • They worked with the customer’s agenda. They established what the customer needed to hear, taking a lead in the difficult conversation but not controlling it.
  • They adopted a positive tone (in both conversations). We were simulating a phone conversation and they knew that emotions can be picked up over the phone: that if you’re smiling the other person will know it. We talked about how emotions are contagious too!
  • They built rapport with their customers: mirroring body language (they were actually in the same room so could do this).
  • They apologised appropriately (in the difficult situation) but also established clear expectations and boundaries as to what was / was not possible.
  • They were clear about what the next steps would be (sign-posting).
  • They empathised on a very human level.

I also noticed that they listened intently, and that they asked lots of open questions. They also took the time to understand their customers, and adjusted their approach accordingly. And I reminded them of the power of silence: to let their customers finish what they needed to say, and also allow for any thinking time they might need.

Then I asked them:

“What would happen if you used all of these skills with your direct reports?”

It was a powerful reflection!

Concluding thoughts

Some of the organisations I work with clearly do use these skills internally: recognising that their employees are valuable internal customers. The resultant harmony between different layers of management is palpable.

What would happen if you the reader used these skills with your direct reports, with your colleagues, with your managers?

In closing: the courtesy and interest that these delegates took in me felt like a real gift. I may have been a supplier in acting as their facilitator, but I felt like a customer too!


The idea of asking delegates to explore how they interact with their customers, and then consider how this could translate to working with their employees is one that my colleague John Hicks first introduced during a course we ran on Performance Reviews and Appraisals. It was particularly effective then too.

About the author

Elisabeth Goodman is the Owner and Principal Consultant at RiverRhee Consulting, specialising in “creating exceptional managers and teams”, through group-coaching style workshops and courses, with a focus on the Life Sciences. RiverRhee is a member-to-member training provider for One Nucleus.

Elisabeth founded RiverRhee in 2009, and prior to that had 25+ years’ experience in the Pharmaceutical Industry in line management and internal training and consultancy roles supporting teams on a global basis.

She and her trusted partners help RiverRhee’s clients to exercise choice and realise their potential in the workplace by recognising their individual values and strengths. Together they explore such topics as enhancing their leadership / management, interpersonal and communication skills, self-organisation and how to deal with change.

Elisabeth is an advocate for Neurodiversity at work, and specialises in coaching for autism both in the workplace and privately. She has recently become an Associate Coach with Genius Within CIC, a social enterprise established in 2011 to help neurominorities fulfill their potential in employment and their careers.

Elisabeth is accredited in Coaching (ACC – International Coaching Federation, PG Certification in Business and Personal Coaching), Change Management, Lean Sigma, Belbin Team Roles, MBTI (Myers Briggs Type Indicator) and is an NLP (NeuroLinguistic Programming) Practitioner. She is also a member of the APM (Association for Project Management) in which she was a founding member of the Enabling Change SIG.

She is also the founder of The Coaches’ Forum – an international community of interest for coaches to explore ideas and insights as an extension to their personal and professional development.

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