A well-meaning friend recently asked me a few pragmatic questions about hosting clients in my home office. The exchange went something like this:
C: “So, what’s it like when you have a client to your house? Do you clean first?”
Me: “Yeah, but only the main living room, since that’s what they see when they walk in. I take them through the hallway instead of the dining room and kitchen, to minimize or avoid any mess exposure there.”
C: “What if they need to use the bathroom?”
Me: “The guest bathroom is right by my office, so I show it to them and then run and grab drinks while they settle in. I do wish it had a louder fan though, or the fan on the same switch as the light, just to give a little more privacy since it’s RIGHT THERE.”
C: “Wait, so beverages. Do you, like, offer them an array of different choices? Do you always have to keep Coke on hand or a pot of coffee made for when you have clients? What if somebody has allergies or whatever?”
Me: “I, uh… *SOB*”
Just kidding, I didn’t start crying. But the whole interaction got me thinking about *why* I do what I do, in that over-analytical, compulsive, three-layers-deep way that I am prone to activating when I think about human interaction. 🙂
TL;DR: I basically just offer people a glass of water. Water just seems so manageable and unlikely to raise conflict. It’s healthy. It’s cheap. It’s easy. It’s always available. And people are rarely allergic to water, haha.
This water choice is not just for my own convenience, though that does factor in. If I kept soda on hand all the time, I’d drink it myself and struggle even more with weight and nutrition; I have poor impulse control with junk food. If I offered them alcohol, which might be lovely for certain clients, I’d worry about their transport home, or if I was running into legal issues since I’m technically a business and not one with a liquor license. Coffee snobbery is rampant here, I don’t always want to set up elegant cream and sugar options for those who take cream and/or sugar (or agave or soy milk or non-dairy whatever), plus it takes a while to make well (cf. snobbery) and most of my in-person visitors are here in the evening, so caffeine isn’t brilliant yet decaf is shunned (more snobbery).
But the core reason I only offer water is that I think my clients can suffer from Choice Overload Syndrome… just like anyone browsing anything online. You know how some online dating profiles have, like 25 pictures? And you’ve seen every follicle and facial expression a person has to offer? You can sort of use too many photos as a reason to glaze over, tune out, and move on to the next profile, where a bit of mystery may remain. I really believe this is true; three or four pics is the sweet spot. (You can always exchange more after you’ve started conversing.)
If I offer a client a beer, a soda, some water, some fancy bubbly water, or a cup of tea or coffee, it starts out our interaction with them IMMEDIATELY having to stop normal greeting processes, stop assessing my house and office (everyone does; I see the scan; it’s natural), stop assessing me and getting a feel for my personality, and stop thinking about online dating and relationships so they can narrow down a damn drink. Choice overload takes away their focus.
Furthermore, a client’s interaction with me is usually WAY more personal than, say, a doctor’s waiting room. So there are also all these nuances to this beverage choice such as them wanting to make a good impression on me, to seem cool, to not be a bother, to have whatever I’m having, to seem healthy, to seem adventurous/down for anything (so spontaneous!), etc. I used to make up a pot of herbal tea to make the house smell nice, and offer them a cup of that if they were into it, but then you get into this weird thing where people feel obligated to have it because you made a whole pot. These racing beverage thoughts are all subconscious, mind you, but they kind of stack up into a less than minor distraction, and therefore they all serve to make our initial interaction that much more nerve-wracking. People aren’t a quaking mess who comes to me, mind you, but I like to make everything about our session as comfortable and homey as possible, without too much distraction.
I’ve never once offered clients a snack. Maybe I could or should; I’m grateful to spas that have bowls of healthy trail mix (even if it seems unsanitary). But I am a mere sole proprietor, with minimal insurance to cover the liability of advising clients out of my house. I don’t want to be sued over a lethal nut allergy, you know? So here; enjoy this glass of water, and let’s get down to brass tacks already!
Well-said, Virginia! So elaborate and totally relatable.