On Being Different

I was having breakfast with a few close friends and fellow organization consultants earlier today, and we came around to talking about how it is that we do what we do.

One of us talked about the importance of reframing client situations.  Showing the power and impact of transforming a negative event into a real opportunity.  This is more than just saying the words (which is such a cliche these days).  It involves asking good questions, being open to the answers that come, and being ready to shift your perspective and mindset based on what you hear.

In another case, we confirmed what it means to develop a clear agreement with a client about the work you will be doing and how you will be doing it together.  Failing to do that writes a recipe for conflict and disagreement down the road.  Creating this contract is hard to do in the best of circumstances and way more so when internal conflict is deeply embedded -- when argumentation and disagreement are viewed as part of “the way things are around here.”

A third person recounted her experiences with setting boundaries with her clients and then sticking to them, no matter what.  As she has become clearer on where these boundaries are and more confident in sharing them, she has found that it places her in higher demand with these same clients.

Reflecting on these stories, it occurred to me that we were all talking about the same thing:  that we are hired and valued by our clients when we bring them something different; when we are something other than what they currently experience on a regular basis.  Indeed, that defines the fundamental reason why they hire us in the first place.

This difference can take many shapes and come in many sizes.  Often, we are asked to bring a particular technical expertise.  More subtly, we are brought in because we have a different attitude, perspective, or presence that can jar people out of their complacency.

This has implications on both sides of the consulting relationship.  If you are one who hires consultants, you are looking for something you don’t already have.  Even if it is something you want, it still represents a change.  Consequently, you are going to resist what the consultant offers, even as you pay for it.  

If you are the consultant, prepare yourself for this eventual resistance, and try not to take it personally.  Develop client-specific strategies that will allow you to help them through it.  You both will be better off.