December 11, 2009

Manners, Grace, and Hospitality

When I first became a massage therapist, my boss at the time would frequently ask, "Did you ask the client to come back?" At first, I was a little shocked. Of course I had asked my client to come back; that's part of what good hospitality is, isn't it? Later, the question insulted me a little. I was gently bred in the original Land of the Thank-You Note, you know, the last bastion of lady-like behavior. Much later, the question just plain irritated me, because you'd think she could remember what I'd said the first twenty times, but hey, that's not really important here.

What is important, I think, is that massage professionals realize how much good manners can make or break a therapist/client relationship. When I come out to meet a new client, I look her in the eye, hold out my hand, and say, "Hi, I'm Lynna. I'll be your therapist today. Come on back." I then ask her about what she needs and if she is having pain, etc. During this part--and this is important--I actually listen, and show through my speech with phrases like "really?" and "oh my gosh, that sounds painful" that I genuinely care. Finally, at the conclusion of the session, I make suggestions about the frequency of further sessions, always stressing that my suggestion is a suggestion, not an order, and that I will be happy to see her whenever she's able to come back in. It's amazing how many clients return to me for care, time and time again.

The problem with teaching good manners--or even agreeing on what they are--is that "good manners" differ from race to culture to region, etc. When I first moved to Seattle, I found the majority of people incredibly rude with a large dose of cold and indifferent, even those working in customer service, which confused me greatly. However, a Japanese friend once told me if I and my Southern Hostess genes went down the street in Tokyo smiling at strangers and making small talk, people would probably consider me insane, possibly dangerous, and definitely ill-mannered. Happily, though, my clients here in Seattle, though perhaps not raised to be warm and cuddly as a rule, seem to really, really appreciate a warm and caring approach to their massage treatment.

Having observed many therapists by this point in my career, I now know why my first boss kept running on a like broken record. It's because there are therapists that don't ask the clients to come back, who never touch a hand or a shoulder, and don't make their clients feel connected to them in the experience in any way whatsoever. Which is fine, I guess . . . but it's a major loss not only in therapist success, but in client well-being. And funny, that last reason's the one we supposedly become massage therapists in the first place.