HYCS #51 – Listen, See, Repeat.

HYCS #51 – Listen, See, Repeat.

Consulting can seem overwhelming, but it boils down to your willingness to listen and help your client see options.  But how do you see new options or hear new information in the first place?

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Reading Time:  3.7 minutes

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“…the advantage I bring to a project is my ability to see (learned through sketching), and a willingness to listen (and ask many questions). To my mind, it comes down to applying those two skills again and again to better serve a client. I never forget that.”

–Richard E Scott

If you click through to the interview with Richard Scott, you’ll see that he is known for fitting new elements of landscape design to pre-existing structures in a way that makes the new elements seem inevitable; it’s hard to imagine the space without them.

This is the Rosetta Stone of Consulting too:  That the changes you and your client make fill a space no one knew was empty.  Every consulting engagement is a quest for the solution that, when discovered, seems inevitable.

Listening and seeing are the only way to achieve this.  This is why the vast majority of change projects fail.  And remember:  Every consulting engagement is a change project.  Every time you ask people to do something differently, that’s a change project

While his colleagues are presenting slick AutoCAD drawings, Richard Scott is asking questions and sketching out new ideas to help his client see what could be.  Then he asks more questions, listens and sketches.  In the time it takes those other architects to finish their presentations, Scott has created a working partnership that enables him and his clients to see new possibilities that result in a solution that seems inevitable

I know which meeting I want to be in.

The tendency in consulting – as in architecture – is to put together a Power Point deck that makes the consultant look so smart the client will accept their recommendations.  Although this is a wonderful fantasy, it has nothing to do with consulting.

Presentations inhibit the kind of conversation I’m after.  They close down the conversation when I most need to open it up.

 Where to Start

I know it’s scary to go in asking questions when your client expects answers.  I know you want to establish your credibility and help your clients calm down.  That first meeting with a client can be like lancing a boil:  Words explode out of them, and it’s clear they are anxious.  They have ideas, solutions.  Or, they have idea.  Solution.  One solution they are drawn to like a chicken on a Cheeto.  They can’t leave it alone.

When I have a client clutching a Cheeto, I like to learn more about their Organization Chart. This may seem odd to you and it often seems odd to my client.  But here’s what the org. chart does for  me:

1. It interrupts the story they are telling themselves about their situation.

2. It loosens my client’s grip on their Cheeto.

3. It tells me where the new story might break out.

4. I helps me change what they see.

Look Beyond the Titles

When I look at an org chart, I see only 3 kinds of people:  Clients, sponsors and colleagues.  The actual chart may have other things written on it, words like EVP or Director, or CEO.  It’s especially tempting for internal consultants to let their behavior be shaped by those titles.  This will severely limit your effectiveness.

Pick a Lane

Either you are a consultant, or you aren’t.   If you are a consultant, you have a fundamentally different worldview than non-consultants no matter what your job title or position on the org. chart.  You can’t help it.  That’s why consultants can contribute more than their position on the org chart suggests. 

I use the org. chart to shift what my client sees.

When my client says “We can’t afford that,” I think (and may say):  “Who can?  That’s our sponsor.” When my client says “I could never ask them for that,” I think (and may say), “There is another member of this client system; how do I meet them?”  When my client says: “I don’t have the staff,” I think (and may say), “Where are her (your) colleagues?

There is a reason your client has fixated on her Cheeto.  There is a reason it makes perfect sense to him.  The org. chart is a reliable place to start finding out why and to help her shift her worldview.  This is much more effective than trying to take away her Cheeto.

Listening to your client doesn’t mean believing what they believe.  What if their worldview needs shifting?  What if they are only a Cheeto away from joining you on a quest for the inevitable solution?  You can help them see it best by listening, and sketching it out.