9.04.2016

An interesting epiphany received while photographing a radiologist.


It was a typical, unusual Sunday afternoon around here. Most of the day was spent doing "Sunday" things like cleaning up, shopping for the week ahead, berating my wine merchant for sending me an indifferent Tempranillo, etc. The one variation from our usual weekend trajectory was the last minute scheduling of a studio portrait for a radiologist, newly arrived at one of the practices I serve. He had a packed schedule during the week ahead and Sunday afternoon was the only pause in his schedule. I am nothing if not flexible, when it comes to scheduling, so, of course I accommodated him.

The doctor showed up in jeans and a pair of worn cowboy boots but, per the dress code of the practice, he had a suit coat, tie and formal shirt on for his session. It was steamy hot outside so I offered him a seat, turned the air conditioning down to "sub-arctic" and got him a bottle of water. We started to chat and ended up still animatedly engaged an hour and a half later. I finally had to call for an end to our wide-ranging but fun conversation so we could get down to the business of taking his photograph.

When we finished out photographic project he mentioned how similar our businesses were, at the heart of the enterprise. I was surprised and asked him to
elaborate. Here's what he said,

"As an interventional radiologist my patients really have no way of rating how well I've done their procedure. They don't know how to value what I've done for them or how, professionally, I've been able to pull it off. What they can gauge are thing that have meaning for them: How well I explained the procedure, how I mitigated the pain, how I helped ease their fears, and how I well I treated them. How I maintained their dignity. It's how I make my patients feel by which they judge our success."

He added, "That's essentially what you do."

Now, I know I'm not saving lives or fixing the ravages of time on the human body. I know I'm just making portraits. But I also know that in every business we are judged not by our reputations or really even by the products we create (as long as we meet the standards of competence for our industry). We are routinely judged by how pleasant we've made the process. How comfortable we've made the time we spend together with our clients. It's an amalgam of both delivering the product they need and making them feel respected and honored at the same time. I may not be the best at technical details, and I'm probably not the most talented practitioner in our local group of photographers, here in Austin, but I try to make up for my camera handling shortcomings and relative lack of expertise by making every engagement as warm and welcoming as I can. In many cases a good rapport is the most important tool I can pull out of my bag.....


8 comments:

Gary said...

I sent the article to my partners in my law office. The comments apply to our work as well. Thank you.

Michael Matthews said...

That's also why your blog is such a success. Rapport galore. Even though the communication flows in only one direction. 99.9% of your readers probably would say, "You know -- I really like that guy."

The other 0.1% are irredeemable schmucks.

Anonymous said...

Great point Kirk: soft skills are (at least) as important as technical skills, but sadly mostly neglected...
Thanks for sharing
Corrado

Boris said...

Great stuff - I value this a lot, as a reminder to put first things first when working with clients. I'll add to the list of occupations where it applies: works for writers/editors, too.

John Krumm said...

A very good insight. It applies to teachers as well. My daughter had the unfortunate experience of having a highly skilled, creative, award winning science teacher with very poor, sometimes cruel people skills (known for making girls cry in class). Gave her a bad taste for science in general.

Mark Davidson said...

Truth!
I have often been told by clients that they had approached the session with trepidation only to end up enjoying it because I made them feel comfortable. While I like to think I am an OK photographer, I know that my people skills have gotten me a lot further than my technical skills.

It is experience gained over the years that allows me to focus on conversation and not lose track of the technical.

I see many younger photographers ( many with great skills) completely engrossed in the technical aspects of the session all the while their subjects/clients are getting more and more nervous. Whether they are the subject or the art director, they want reassurance that all is going well and that complete success is inevitable.

Mike said...

Thanks for this. Every once in a while it's nice to be reminded that it's not about lenses and softboxes, but how well we engage our clients.

Joe Gilbert said...

Thought I saw "How to win friends and influence people." on your book shelf.. :)

Joe