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Serve (don’t please) - Blog Image

Serve (don’t please)

BY: Andrea Nakayama

DATE: 2018-08-13

I’m regularly asked how to create happy clients when we’re constantly asking them to do things they don’t want to do, and in the end, we’re not really giving them what they want.

Here’s what I mean…

People may come to you wanting you to fix their digestion so that they can finally eat pizza again without gas, bloating, or the fear of exacerbating some other sign or symptom.

Or they may be OK with eliminating sugar, except for the 80% chocolate bar they devour each evening as a reward for checking a number of other ‘good for me’ boxes off their list that day.

Or maybe you have a client who agrees to everything you’ve outlined in one session, and then shows up to your next appointment having done nothing on her Action Form but wanting to spend your session recounting (in great detail) the many circumstances that made it impossible for her to follow your recommendations.

How do you create happy clients (who continue to secure your services and refer their friends and family to you) when you’re repeatedly the bearer of restriction and refinement—possibly deemed as ‘bad news’?

How can you be there for your clients, and be their advocate, when they’re asking you for your buy-in on choices that you know don’t serve them?

This is a GREAT question!

The Functional Reframe – Serve, Don’t Please

When you have a client who wants something you can’t give, like a ‘fixed’ digestive system that gives them license to eat what they want, or one who wants you to tell them it’s OK that they’re not following the guidelines you’ve outlined to meet your joint goals, you have a choice…

You can please your client and go along with her story.

Or you can serve your client and call her on her story.

Pleasing looks like chasing the quick-fix, or taking it on as your responsibility alone to come up with a new protocol that’s more enticing and fun, agreeing with her excuses, or allowing her to engage in endless email conversations with you, the kind that are laden with stories and excuses.

Pleasing looks like presenting clients with the shiny objects (who we are, what we know), being charming, answering all their questions (without reframing them), and getting them to like us.

When you please your client, you make her happy, but only in the short-term.

She feels relieved in the moment. So do you. And you’re on your way to making a friend.

Distinct from this is serving your clients. It’s what you really want to do. And serving means you may need to have some difficult (and honest) conversations:

  • What’s getting in the way of you following through?

  • We can’t start addressing your infection until you can get to sleep before midnight and poop more than twice a week — let’s keep our attention there first.

  • Sugar is directly related to your pain. We can’t move forward until you eliminate your daily chocolate bar. Let’s come up with some alternatives and uncover what you’re feeling when you want or need that reward.

You might create tension in the room at first.

You might not get invited to your client’s birthday party.

But she’ll love you as a practitioner because you helped her get results.

Serving comes from full demonstration, leadership and taking responsibility for showing how you can improve their life. Serving requires ownership of the communication that establishes authority in a way that is unquestionable.

These clients and patients are coming to you for guidance, not friendship.

And, ultimately, referrals are better than invitations to tea. (You can turn to your friends and family for the latter.)

Step One to Serve, Don’t Please

Pleasing is part of our culture, especially for women.

We feel guilty if we aren’t doing the sweet, nice thing, and we sometimes struggle to ‘wear the pants’ and get a little tough if it means we won’t be liked.

Pleasing comes from a mindset of winning approval, being liked and validated, and doing things in a task-oriented way. (The child in each of us wants to please, and our job is to not let that child run the show in our professional work.)

To step out of this cycle, your first move requires awareness.

Look at the following diagram.

Are you in the Victim Loop or the Accountability Loop?

What about your client?

Which loop is she in?

victim accountability loop | Functional Nutrition Lab

STEP ONE is to gain awareness about which loop you’re both in. Notice where you can shift this so that both of you are in the accountability loop.

(Note: It’s OK to pull out the diagram and illuminate the conversation!)

Once you’ve done this, you’re truly serving both yourself and your clients.


Which area in the Victim Loop is one where you typically get stuck? Does one ring true for you? Recognizing your own patterns helps you to better serve your clients. Take a moment to illuminate what’s true for you.

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Andrea Nakayama

By: Andrea Nakayama, FxNA Founder & Functional Medicine Nutritionist

Functional Nutrition Alliance provides the comprehensive online Functional Nutrition training in the Science & Art of the Functional Nutrition practice. Learn to address the roots of your clients’ suffering with client education, diet & lifestyle modifications.


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