Moving Past Persistent Resistance

Years ago, I was partnering with our organization’s IT team to outfit a new computer lab. There were a lot of details to work out. I was approaching the project with the learner in mind. My IT counterpart was focused on minimizing the cables that would be crisscrossing the room. Unfortunately, my want for the learner did not line up with his want for the scope of work needed to get the lab ready. I faced resistance.

After a few conversations that seemed to go nowhere, I remember looking at my colleague and asking, “Is it that you can’t do it or that you don’t want to do?” He looked at me stunned and admitted, “I don’t want to.”

Stuck or Breaking Through

It was a real breakthrough moment in our work together. The resistance I was feeling was laid bare, and we finally were able to work together to get the lab built. In the end, it looked a bit different for both of us, but it worked and worked well.

At the time, I didn’t realize that we were in the middle of a foundational part of consulting. We were contracting and admittedly not very well. We were stuck, and I knew we were stuck because neither of us was willing to move away from what “I want” with little consideration for what the other person might want as well.

Thankfully, we did eventually move past our persistent resistance. The lesson learned, however, is that it didn’t happen by accident. I had to walk directly into the resistance and be prepared for what might happen. I’m not so sure I did it perfectly, but it was effective. Once I acknowledged the resistance, we were able to have productive and collaborative conversations so we could get the job done.

Conversations For Collaboration

From that point forward, our conversations changed. We started listening and stopped trying to have “my way be the only way.” It was not easy to do. I was the customer, and I consistently had to battle the feeling that he should “just be doing what I want.” As I look back now, I realize that I wanted a pair of hands to do my bidding. It’s funny, really. I’m no IT expert, but I certainly tried to play one. At the same time, he was doing very little to understand what I needed to do and why. There was little effort to understand the problem I was trying to solve. After all, he was the expert with all the answers, right?

The experience highlights the greatest challenge most of us face as internal consultants. And, make no mistake, you are consulting any time you must influence another person with whom you have no direct control. I had none with my IT counterpart, and he had none with me. We were giving no thought to influencing the other. Instead, we were on the “do it my way” train. It’s a wonder the computer lab was ever finished.

A Win-Win

Our relationship only started working when we started looking at it as a relationship. We shifted away from listing our demands to a conversation about what we both wanted from our work together and what we were willing to give the other to help make it successful. There was negotiation, but we became clearer in not only what we were trying to accomplish together but how we were going to do it. And I’m not just talking about the technical stuff. We also talked about the way we would communicate with each other, how best to respect the other person’s ideas, and even how we would disagree moving forward.

It was never a match made in heaven, but we made it work. Chances are, you must make it work every day at work, too. When you do, ask if you’ve taken the time to contract with each other on the “what and how” of your collaboration. If you don’t know, there’s work to do. Ask the question, “So, what do you want from me?” and be prepared to share what you want from them, too. Be simple, be direct, and above all else, be real. You won’t always get what you want. Life is like that. But you will get further faster when you both know how to show up for the other.

Learn how to move past persistent resistance in Flawless Consulting Workshops.

Tips for Getting Real on What’s Really Happening at Work

In the past month, life for most of us has changed. Plans have been disrupted and work looks very different. We may be working from home—or we may not be working at all, furloughed or laid-off from our organizations. There is uncertainty and uncertainty fuels anxiety.

In organizations around the world, leaders and managers are responsible for helping to minimize this anxiety with their workforce. It’s a global issue and certainly an issue of global proportions. After all, how do I as a leader in an organization help provide clarity, when I am living in these unparalleled and uncertain times as well?

The complexity of our times may prompt some to look for a complex answer to these challenges. However, the answer, in part, is fairly simple . . . just be real. In our Flawless Consulting workshops, we call it being authentic. Authenticity isn’t new, but how we leverage it in today’s challenging times may be the best new idea in what is a new time, in how we lead and manage in organizations.

In Peter Block’s book, The Empowered Manager: Positive Political Skills at Work, he outlines the four basic approaches we can take to be authentic in our interactions with others.

1. Say no when we mean no. Instead of hedging our position for fear of being disapproved of, we make it a point to let others know where we stand. Too many expectations are violated when we are reluctant to take a stand early on. If it’s something you can’t do, won’t do, or shouldn’t do, have the courage to say no and explain why.

2. Share as much information as possible. Let people know the organization’s plans, ideas, and changes as soon as possible. If there is something you can’t share, say so and explain why. In the absence of information, people will fill the void—and what they fill it with is often worse than the truth.

3. Use language that describes reality. Use language that describes the reality of what is happening, rather than hiding it behind corporate speak. Share it in a way that the message gets through. Tell people in unmistakable terms where you or the organization stand, and why you need to take the action you are taking.

4. Avoid repositioning for the sake of acceptance. No public relations in the rah-rah sense, no repositioning just for the sake of selling our story. People need to hear both sides of the story—our certainty and our doubt.

In times of uncertainty and change, people are likely to psychologically and even physically check out. For leaders and managers of organizations, there may be little room for critical players to check out, even for a little while. While the world works to get our global house in order, being authentic may be the most practical thing leaders and managers can do right now.

Beverly Crowell is an experienced facilitator, speaker, thought leader, and author specializing in the areas of business operations, organization, employee and human resources development.

Developing an Assertive You for Consulting Win-Wins

In high school, I remember a cheer we used to shout at basketball games. It went something like,


Be Aggressive

Be, Be Aggressive!”

When your team is down by ten points, being aggressive may not be such a bad thing. In consultant/client relationships, however, being aggressive is a quick path to a failed solution.

In Flawless Consulting, we talk about this idea of being aggressive, as well as what it means to be the opposite, or non-assertive. Neither is a recipe for success. As Flawless consultants, we strive to be assertive, respecting the rights of others as well as our own. Rights such as the ability to voice an opinion, be listened to, disagree, to say no, be treated with respect, express feelings, or be quiet are generally things we want for ourselves—and certainly rights we should not deny our clients.

Unfortunately, when faced with aggression or non-assertive behaviors, these rights are seldom honored and our ability to help clients solve problems so they stay solved quickly diminishes. When aggressive, it’s all about me. When passive, it’s all about you. Either way, there is a clear loser. When assertive, we both “win.”

Even so, being one or the other can have its benefits. Consider: what are the negative and positive qualities of aggressive and non-assertive behavior?







Avoid Conflict

Missed Opportunities



Avoid Blaming

Lack of Influence





Lack of trust

Decisions Made


Not Engaged


Take Stance




Assertiveness is the best of both worlds. We all have the ability to control our behavior and act in all three ways. When we get under stress, we tend to move away from assertiveness. So, being aware of the negatives of both aggressive and non-assertive behavior may help all of us move more to the middle, especially when dealing with those who aren’t.

Below are some tips to help you “move to the middle” in being more assertive with your clients.

  •       Understand your communication style. There are many types of personality assessments that can help you identify your style of communication-based on specific personality traits. Learn what yours are and how your style naturally interacts with others. Pay attention to your client and take notice of how they communicate. Adjust your behaviors accordingly. If your client is quiet and methodical in their thought processes, bombarding them with a lot of information and asking for immediate answers won’t be successful. Instead, think of how you can honor their rights in the conversation by giving quiet spaces for thinking and asking if they need more time to consider the options before moving on.

  •       Reign in your emotions. When dealing with a client who is aggressive or non-assertive, it’s easy to meet their negative behaviors with our own. It’s called collusion. The Arbinger Institute explains it as, “I’ll mistreat you so you can blame your bad behavior on me, if you’ll mistreat me so I can blame my bad behavior on you.” Temper what may be an initial negative response, and instead, reign in your own emotions to stay assertive. You’ll discover it’s a lot harder to exhibit negative behaviors when one of the participants is no longer willing to engage in the blame. Ultimately, assertive people control their own behavior.

  •       Don’t be afraid to ask for what you want. In Flawless Consulting, we encourage conversations about wants as part of contracting with a client. Asking for what we want helps eliminate confusion and conflicts. Ask your client early on what they want from you and the consulting agreement. At the same time, ask for what you want too. And don’t just ask for those technical wants such as access to information. Ask for wants that show how you will work together. Use “I” statements explaining, “I want to meet with you weekly to make joint decisions on next steps.” We can set expectations early on how we will work with our clients, if we make these wants known as part of our contracting meeting.

Is it really possible to be assertive with clients? The simple answer is yes. It’s not only possible but, ultimately, much more productive and comfortable than the alternative. It does take practice, and you may not always be 100% assertive all the time—but the more you honor the rights of yourself and others, the easier it is to B-E-A-S-S-E-R-T-I-V-E, Be, Be Assertive!

Beverly Crowell is an experienced facilitator, speaker, thought leader, and author specializing in the areas of business operations, organization, employee and human resources development.

A Practical Guide for New Work-at-Homers

Since 2007, I’ve been working from home. I’ve learned a great deal about what it takes to make working remotely work. If you’ve ever worked from home, you know it’s nothing like working in an office. To help you survive and maybe even thrive in this “new normal,” here are some of my most practical (and real) tips.

If you’ve ever worked from home, you know it’s nothing like working in an office.

  • If you have dogs, close your curtains or blinds before a conference call. If you don’t, you can guarantee that is the exact moment when something or someone will go by your window and launch a barking fit from your most precious canine.

  • Make a Do Not Disturb sign for your door. Post it when you need some privacy for a call or to actually get some work done. When that doesn’t work (and it won’t), create a new sign for your door that says, “Do not disturb and I really mean it!!!” It still may not work, but you’ve made your point.

  • Get a good chair with an armrest. The dining room chair or the folding chair from the closet will be fine for a few hours. Any longer and you’re asking for sore shoulders, backside, and legs. Don’t be afraid to spend more than a few dollars for a good chair if you are going to be spending more than a few hours on it. And be careful with adjustable chairs. Eventually, they lose their ‘adjustability.’ On one teleconference, my chair slowly started to lower while I was talking. Nothing like sinking out of the video frame when you’re trying to look smart.

  • Make sure your family knows when you are doing a video conference and hang the “Do not disturb and I really mean it” sign. Then, shut the door and remind them not to come in for any reason and then lock the door. I once did all of these things and forgot to lock the door. Moments later, my colleagues on the video conference said, “Beverly, it looks like there is a stick floating behind your head with a note attached.” There was. It was my husband asking if I wanted some lunch. Nice gesture, wrong time. Clearly, my sign did not work—but his did. I asked for a sandwich.

  • Be prepared to be on video at any time. And, if you are not willing to do so, take a sticky note right now to cover the camera on your computer. I’ve been caught more than once with no make-up and messy hair when dialing in to a call and not realizing I was going live. There’s nothing like seeing yourself looking down at a computer when you are not ready for it. I’m still traumatized.

  • Talk with your lawn guy about when not to mow the grass. For that matter, be sure to coordinate all work on or in the house around your work schedule. You can’t make a lawn mower quieter and it’s not professional to ask your colleagues to shout.

  • Remind your family and friends that, “Yes, I am working. I may be working from home, but I am working. Sorry, I can’t take you to the store. No, I can’t watch your kids.” People will ask. They don’t understand and some may even get irritated when you say no. For those folks, I’m happy to share my hourly rate.

Best advice? Have a sense of humor. Working from home is nothing like working in an office. There will be distractions. The good news is that many are doing it, so we can laugh together. And with that in mind, share your funniest working from home tip or story with me. I’d love to know I’m not alone!

Originally posted on LinkedIn.


Developing Flawless Clients

Flawless Consulting is the popular workshop and book by Peter Block, which are designed to develop skills that increase an internal consultant’s ability to have a strong and positive impact on their client’s business results. Individuals in staff positions such as human resources, training, organizational development, information systems, finance, safety, purchasing, and engineering have all benefited from Flawless Consulting over the years.

Recently, I was delivering a workshop to one such group: Human Resources. Near the end of the second day and after much exploration of the Flawless Consulting process and skills, a participant asked, “I love all this content for myself as a consultant. It would be great if my client could hear it as well. Do you have a class for them . . . on how to be a flawless client?”

After some laughter and agreement in the room, we talked about this idea of the flawless client. Who are they? What do they do or not do that makes them flawless? How can we as consultants help?

In his book Flawless Consulting, Block asserts that a consultant is a person in a position to have some influence over an individual, group, or organization, but with no power to make changes or implement programs. Most people in staff or support roles are really consultants, even if they don’t call themselves one. And if we take that thinking further, many of our clients may find themselves in the consultant role, too.

Most professionals are working in cross-functional, cross-business groups and other work models that do not maintain strict vertical business units grouped by function and geography. So, a client today may be a consultant tomorrow.


If we agree that any client may also be a consultant, the answer to how we help them becomes a whole lot simpler. Here are some ideas.

  • While we don’t have a workshop called Flawless Clients, we do have Flawless Consulting. Anyone inside your organization who is in a position to influence without the power to make the changes would be an excellent candidate. Invite them to attend—and if they do, get together to talk about what they learned and how it can help your own relationship moving forward. Many leaders/clients have attended the workshop and found great value in the experience.

  • Remember, we learn from each other—directly or indirectly. By being a Flawless Consultant, you are inviting your clients to learn from you through what you say and what you do. Have a discussion about the consulting process—specifically, as part of your conversations to lay the groundwork for how you will work together, not just what work you will do. Encourage questions and be intentional in sharing what you are doing and why. Throughout the process, ask the question, “What did we learn from that?” Push the pause button to reflect before moving on to the next task or step.

  • In any consulting agreement, maximum client involvement will occur to the extent that you involve them. Our goal as Flawless Consultants is to be collaborative, where the engagement is a 50/50 partnership with our client to solve a given problem. When collaborative, the client must be actively involved in data gathering and analysis, setting goals and developing action plans, and finally, sharing responsibility for success or failure. When we are collaborative, problem-solving becomes a joint undertaking: the better the odds for success after the consultant has left and the more that is learned.

When we are being authentic with our clients and completing the business of consulting in each phase, we are being Flawless. Even so, it won’t always mean our clients become flawless too. According to Block, “Your job, as a consultant, is to present information as simply, directly, and assertively as possible, and to complete the tasks of each phase of the consultation. That’s all there is to do, and it’s within each of us to do that perfectly.” Do that perfectly, and perhaps your clients will follow.

Beverly Crowell is an experienced facilitator, speaker, thought leader, and author specializing in the areas of business operations, organization, employee and human resources development.

Telling It Like It Is

Many years ago, I was introduced to what is now one of my favorite books, Leadership and Self-Deception by the Arbinger Institute. I was intrigued by the title and mostly curious about the term self-deception. What is it—and do I have it?

In simplest terms, self-deception means that we do not see ourselves and the people around us as they really are. The authors of the book explain: “It blinds us to the true cause of problems, and once blind, all the ‘solutions’ we can think of will actually make matters worse.” As a Flawless consultant, it’s a truth I’ve seen played out all too often.

Critical to the success of our consulting relationships is the ability to “tell it like it is,” and that often means sharing with a client how they have contributed to the problem they’ve hired us to solve. Often, we are asking them to take responsibility for something they have been unwilling or unable to confront.

So, how do we as Flawless consultants challenge our clients to see themselves, the people around them, and the problem as it really is?

It’s called feedback—and through our experiences, we’ve learned there are specific criteria which must be followed if you want the feedback to be heard, accepted, actionable, and most of all . . . matter.

Flawless consultants use specific, descriptive, clear, and simple language. They are non-judgmental but deliver the feedback assertively. We actively encourage reactions to the feedback to surface doubts and reservations so that we can support and address any concerns the client may have with moving forward. We also identify the client’s contribution to the problem that is within their control, and inspire the will to act by showing the impact on the business, others, and the client themselves.

Often, the anxiety we feel in giving difficult feedback is our own, not the client’s. Saying it can be much harder than listening to it. However, our goal as Flawless consultants is always to get the client to act on the underlying issues. Doing so will require us at times to indeed “tell it like is” so that our clients can see a clear picture, free of self-deception, so that the problem can ultimately be solved.

The No-Judgment Zone

Jiddu Krishnamurti, an Indian philosopher, speaker, and writer said, “The ability to observe without evaluating is the highest form of intelligence.” It’s an ability we talk about often in Flawless Consulting when learning how to deal with resistance in our client relationships.

Observation is the action or process of observing something or someone carefully in order to gain information. It is a statement based on something one has seen, heard, or noticed. Evaluation is altogether different. It is the making of a judgment about the amount, number, or value of something—an assessment. The time between observation and evaluation is seconds but the impact can be monumental.

At any point in our consulting process with a client, resistance is likely to happen. Dealing with such resistance may not be easy, but we’ve learned it can be simple. The key is leveraging the difference between observation and evaluation.

First, let’s talk about what resistance may look like in a client.

Some examples may include silence, interrupting, changing the topic, asking excessive questions, checking the time, stone-walling, arriving late, leaving early or even proclaiming, “We’ve always done it this way.” When hit with these various forms of resistance, it can be very easy to jump immediately into our own evaluation of what we believe their resistance must really mean. Flawless Consultants learn to come to a full-stop of our innate jump to judgment.

We do this by understanding what is behind the resistance and seek to get to the heart of what’s really going on.

Resistance in clients is often a sneak peek into their own harsh realities of the challenge they are trying to overcome.

There may be a real fear of being vulnerable to the consulting process, making a commitment, or even the fear of losing control. Resistance then is an open door to discovering critical aspects of what could be an underlying problem that should be addressed sooner rather than later. There may be a real fear of being vulnerable to the consulting process, making a commitment, or even the fear of losing control. Resistance then is an open door to discovering critical aspects of what could be an underlying problem that should be addressed sooner rather than later.

We use five skills to help navigate these murky waters.

1. Give two good-faith responses. In other words, give a “resisting” behavior a pass for the first two times. If you see your client take a quick look at their watch, don’t automatically read too much into it. If the behavior doesn’t continue, it wasn’t signaling resistance.

2. If the behavior does continue after at least two good-faith responses, name the behavior simply and directly. Here is where the difference between observation and evaluation becomes critical. Simply state the observed behavior and come to a full stop before moving to evaluation.

For instance, a client continues to look at their watch. A Flawless Consultant would say, “You keep looking at the clock.” If you say, “You look distracted,” you’ve moved pass observation, into evaluation and well into judgment which can quickly derail a conversation and make navigating the resistance even more difficult.

3. Once you’ve named the behavior, be quiet. Let the tension rise and allow the client to explain what the behavior means.

4. Give support to the underlying concerns by listening curiously, asking questions and seeking to understand.

5. Return to the business of the meeting or something new, depending on the underlying concerns. Let it go and move on.

Ultimately, resistance gets in the way of dealing with issues that affect the work. If we, as consultants, don’t manage the resistance, we may never really get to the deeper issues. We can help clients be more direct by showing them what they are doing by being clear and direct about our observations. It’s with this “look in the mirror” that we hope clients will say “why” they are doing it. No evaluation. No judgment. After all, it’s their “why” to tell.

Beverly Crowell is an experienced facilitator, speaker, thought leader, and author specializing in the areas of business operations, organization, employee and human resources development.

Why We Say Yes When We May Want to Say No

The phone rings on a Friday afternoon. It’s a key internal client and he’s got a problem. The urgency in his voice rings as someone who wants help, wants it now and wants it from you as a trusted and respected consultant in the organization. Recognizing the need to move fast, you set up a meeting for first-thing Monday morning.

You arrive at the meeting ready to explore how your client sees the problem and understand more about his expectations of you. What you learn is concerning. The client is ready to jump to a solution and wants to jump fast. Why? He’s already figured out how to fix the problem and wants you to do it for him …now.

At Designed Learning, we know this story is the real deal and a real issue.  It’s especially true for internal consultants who feel challenged with telling a client “no” when you know they want to hear “yes.” In working with our consultants around the globe, we’ve asked them, “Why do you say ‘yes’ to your client, when maybe you should say ‘no?’”

Here’s what we’ve heard:

  • I need the project in order to survive or get ahead, I have quota to fill.

  • My boss has high expectations of me.

  • I feel an obligation to my internal clients to help and do what they want.

  • It’s a great opportunity to get my foot in the door and establish my reputation.

  • It’s the way consulting has always been done.

  • It’s my job.

Saying “yes” when we should say “no” creates the opportunity for hurried contracting and a shotgun diagnosis of your client’s problem at hand.

Should you make it to the implementation of your solution, it’s the breeding ground for even more problems and less than desirable results. While saying “no” is never easy, it may be the only way to solve the client’s problem so that it stays solved and enables them to solve similar problems in the future.

So, how do you say “no” when you know your client wants you to say “yes?”

At the heart of Flawless Consulting is the mindset of authenticity and compassion. When we are authentic as consultants, we are direct and put into words what we are experiencing, and we do so compassionately by considering the client’s point of view. We strive to be a model for the way we want the organization to be and, as such, we commit to not rushing to get it done. Instead, we challenge ourselves and our clients to complete the various phases of consulting and deal with resistance as it comes along.

At the foundation of Flawless Consulting is the preliminary phase of Entry and Contracting. It is here where the consulting relationship is established and consultants have the best leverage for establishing a collaborative partnership with the client so that a “no” does not have to become a “yes” if it’s not in the best interest of the client, the consultant, or the organization. As part of their initial contracting meeting with clients, Flawless Consultants explore how their clients see the problem, whether they are the right person to work on the issues, how the client’s expectations are aligned with their own, and discuss how best to get started.

If expectations are not aligned, we may experience the harsh reality of a client fearing the loss of control, making a commitment, or being vulnerable to something new that does not represent their initial ideas. Instead of taking it personally or caving in with a “yes,” Flawless Consultants want resistance disclosed, exposed, understood and supported. If our clients are direct about their concerns and take responsibility for the difficulties they are having, our belief is that we, the consultants, can more easily support them in their struggle and help them find ways to improve their situation.

Unfortunately, even the best efforts can and will be derailed from time to time. For internal consultants, the boss may have expectations of you that you cannot fill. You may feel like you never can say no or that it’s your job to convert very difficult clients. If this is you, try having a contracting meeting with your boss. Consider what you think your boss wants from you and detail what you want from your boss. Then, schedule some time to discuss your stated or unstated wants, assumptions and expectations. The clarity of understanding and agreement with your boss will directly affect your ability to be flawless with your clients.

“Working in organizations means we are constantly bombarded by pressure to be clever and indirect and to ignore what we are feeling in the moment,” explains Peter Block, author of Flawless Consulting. “Flawless consulting offers the possibility of letting our behavior be consistent with our beliefs and feelings and also to be successful in working with our clients.”

Getting Beyond the Smoke and Mirrors

In Flawless Consulting, author Peter Block writes, “Most consulting projects get started because managers feel pain. When the organization feels the pain, managers start to describe for themselves why the pain exists.” It should be no surprise then that projects defined from an initial place of pain may be a lot of “smoke and mirrors” designed to unintentionally draw attention away from what is really happening inside an organization.

In magical illusions, smoke and mirrors are a classic technique designed to obscure or embellish the truth of a situation. And while managers may not intentionally be obscuring or embellishing the truth of a situation, those experienced in the Flawless Consulting model know what is stated initially is rarely what is at the heart of a problem.

To get at the heart of the problem, you need to first discover the underlying dimensions of the situation by analyzing what you’ve heard initially against what still is to be learned. To do so, look first at the top layer which is usually described as the presenting problem – what the manager or client believes is at core of the issue. It may or may not be all smoke and mirrors at this point, but flawless consultants dig deeper by looking at the middle and core layers of the problem to understand how others in the organization are contributing to the problem and how the client may be contributing as well. The process of doing so is called Discovery.

In the Flawless Consulting process, gaining a clear picture of the problem begins only after the initial meeting with the client and contracting around how to best move forward. Once an agreement is reached, the consultant works to discover the underlying dimensions of the situation. They do so by asking the client and others in the organization to restate the problem as they see it and then go further by being direct and asking:

  • How are others’ in the organization contributing to the problem?

  • How are you contributing to the problem?

  • What’s the future you want to see?

The objective of Discovery is to understand the dimensions of the problem and describe it in a way that is enlightening and actionable – something someone can do something about.

This initial inquiry will help direct where you look next to discover how the problem is being managed … or not.

In medicine, it’s easy to understand the difference between treating the symptoms or curing a condition. A broken leg hurts and pain killers may temporarily ease the pain, but you need a completely different treatment plan to heal the leg. In organizations, it’s easy to want to treat the symptoms of a problem for even a momentary respite from the technical or interpersonal issues causing the pain. Experience tells us however; the pain will return.

Flawless consulting provides a roadmap to get a picture of what is really happening inside an organization and then make recommendations on how to address it. By shedding light on all the layers underneath, the mystery is revealed and a clear picture emerges on how to solve the problem so it stays solved.