Yesterday, I had the opportunity to conduct another focus group–this time with a few of the male corrections clients at one of the halfway houses. I was a little nervous when I first arrived and entered the room where the weekly “residents’ meeting” was taking place. There were a lot more people present than I expected, upwards of twenty clients. I listened in on the meeting and took notes, wondering the entire time how I was going to keep the focus group…well, focused. Luckily, a couple of the guys approached me after the meeting and asked me who I was. When I told them I was looking to talk to a couple of people about Alvis House services, they offered to sit down and talk to me before the next group of residents came in for their weekly meeting. After that was over and the next meeting began, one of the CRSs offered to round up a few more guys so that I could have feedback from a total of six clients, like I had hoped for. It was a very insightful couple of hours of my life, and I was grateful that I didn’t have to talk to all twenty clients at once!
I learned from this experience that whenever you’re nervous or apprehensive in a professional situation, it’s best to just be yourself and be as genuine as possible. Especially when the “professionalism” really just involves forming a relationship with someone, taking a deep breath and removing any kind of “job face” or fronts can often be the best way to relate to people. Granted, there are some situations which call for a sort of refining of your typical personality—for instance, I realized from various networking sessions this summer that I could probably tone down my use of the word “awesome” and substitute it with something a bit more sophisticated when I speak to people in formal settings. But when the goal is to get a client to trust you and build a relationship with you, then total sincerity—“awesome”s and all—is the best route I think.