Under My Skin

Professional psychology


Every profession requires knowledge and technique: You have to know what to do and how to do it. But each also has a psychological dimension, the ability to figure out how to get people to accept what you’re trying to do for them.

Dr. Alan Rockoff, a dermatologist in Brookline, Mass.

Dr. Alan Rockoff

Expertise and psychology: Every profession needs both, including our own. Over my years in practice, I’ve met people in many walks of life who develop the same combination. Here are some favorites:

1. Wedding planners

Venues, décor, dresses, floral arrangements, caterers, bands. Wedding planners must know about all of these. And that’s just the start.

Weddings make everyone a bit crazy, or more than a bit. There are parents trying not to let go, children trying to pull away (a Destination Wedding in Patagonia – perfect – none of the family can come!), cultural and taste gaps between the sides (tipplers from Tinseltown and teetotalers from Tupelo), culling the guest list (see Patagonia). Every wedding planner I’ve met could write a book, but won’t. Legal fees would be too high.

Given all this turmoil, some wedding planners might advise elopement and put themselves out of business. No fear of that happening.

2. Event planners

See Wedding Planners, only add: arbitrary and capricious bosses, incompetent implementers, acts of God, acts of man, and everything that goes wrong when there are too many moving parts. One close friend who organizes professional conventions says that every year one attendee posts this complaint on the message board: “Why is there no Diet Mountain Dew?!!!”

3. Dressmakers

Again, see Wedding Planners. Knowing how to design, create, and fit a dress demands a set of skills that earns my admiration and respect. Knowing how to deal with the people who are going to wear the dresses deserves not respect but awe. Even if I knew how to sew, I wouldn’t last a week in this business.

4. Financial planners

Every financial planner I meet describes what they do as “mostly psychology.” Of course, they need to recommend investments that suit the age, life status, and plans of their clients. That’s the easy part.

“When the market is dropping,” says Phil, “people call to scream that they’re losing their shirt. When the market is going up, they call to scream that they’re not making out as well as their friends claim they are.

“Either way, I just hold the phone far enough away from my ear to save my hearing until they’re done venting. Then I try to calm them down and assure them that investing is a long game, and over time they’ll do better staying the course we agreed on than jumping around with every market swing, up or down.”

“Do they listen?”

“Most of them. Eventually.”

4. Speakers’ booking agents

Matching clients with speakers can bring curious challenges. Celebrity speakers in particular may have unique requirements that the agents who book them must figure out and comply with. Or else.

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