I haven’t traveled abroad in a very long time and took a long-planned, twice-postponed trip to attend a yoga retreat in Morocco last month. It was an amazing experience to explore such a dramatically different culture and an excellent reminder of the many benefits of travel. So many of the lessons I was reminded of also reflect the skills and mindsets needed to cultivate successful client relationships and to develop new business.
Get comfortable being uncomfortable. In work as in life we like our routines, being prepared, our creature comforts and knowing what to expect. Going somewhere far away, meeting new people, trying new foods, hearing unfamiliar languages and navigating social dynamics in different cultures can feel very uncomfortable. I read travel books and blogs in advance of my trip and talked to friends who had been there. Once I arrived, I also asked the hotel manager and my driver for advice navigating the city on my own before joining my group the following day. Armed with a map and safety tips, I confidently navigated the “Medina” for several hours on my own. By absorbing some basic knowledge about what to expect and how to prepare, I was able to dramatically increase my comfort level.
Be intellectually curious. Travel always makes me reflect on how much there is to learn in this great big world and how little I really know. It also creates a desire to understand cultural and religious similarities and differences and to learn new languages and more about history and geography. While reading guidebooks or novels set in your destination is a wonderful way to learn, the best way to learn is to ask open-ended questions and follow the trail. The retreat center owners and staff, hiking guides, museum docents, drivers, restaurant servers and shopkeepers were flattered to be asked to share their views and so generous sharing information about their lives and their country. Your clients are flattered when you ask about their world, too.
Practice enlightened hospitality. In our post-COVID reality here in the U.S., society has shifted to a self-serve and DIY experience. It’s certainly understandable with staffing challenges and the need to focus on expense control and efficiency, but after experiencing Morocco’s extreme hospitality I long for a more civilized and human experience. Before conducting business, whether it’s checking into a hotel or purchasing a rug, tea service is presented, and real people rather than computer screens interact with you. Don’t forget the power of the little things that make your clients feel appreciated. Often that can be as simple as personal outreach or a handwritten note. Reread Setting the Table by Danny Meyer to learn about the transforming power of hospitality in business.
Be a rubber tree. Things rarely go as planned in travels or in life. It is essential to be quick to adapt, regroup and find another way. Maintaining a good attitude while facing obstacles and delays helps preserve the experience for you and others. And clients often say they value the attorneys who can bend and not break.