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.
How often have I been asked, “We can’t take 3 days away from work for a workshop, so can you cut it to two days?”
There’s a lot of pressure to “cut the time AND cover all the material AND include practical exercises to build their skills”. If it’s a three-day workshop, people want it in two. If you reduce it to two days, they want it in one!
Here are my favorite reasons as to “WHY we can’t do a three-day workshop…”
5. “Our people can’t take 3 days away from work for training; they’re too busy.”
4. “Three days costs too much. We’re trying to contain expenses”
3 “Other people only take 2 days.”
2. “We know there is slack time in any workshop. The first day is usually slow.”
And my # 1 favorite reason, “Why we can’t do a three-day workshop”, is…
1. “Our people are intelligent, experienced, fast-paced, multi-taskers who get bored easily.”
Let’s face it. We’re all addicted to speed… we’re all too busy!
While there is some truth to all the reasons listed above, we can’t condense the time and still do everything. The question is, “Do we want to teach content (short lectures with some Q & A) or equip learners (practice the skills)?
If we shorten times, something gets sacrificed. Let’s think about what we lose and what it costs. I see three things that we sacrifice when we shorten workshops.
The first and most impactful is practice. Flawless Consulting workshops emphasize practice, individual and team, in a safe environment. Practice lets people know quickly how they’re doing. You have someone to coach you and offer suggestions. You get to try various approaches to see how they work. Without practice you are less likely to use the skills you’ve learned. And practice usually gets cut when we want to shorten a workshop.
Next, we limit relationships. Flawless Consulting workshops have people working in pairs, trios, and small teams We want people to work together, to build teams and networks yet we give them few opportunities to actually meet and talk. In a one-day workshop, we just begin to recognize people and then it’s already time to go.
And last is contemplation time. Flawless Consulting workshops build in “time to think, ” individually and collectively. As we think, questions emerge and possibilities occur. We begin to learn. Without contemplation, we tend to stay in our old mode of thinking and very little changes.
So, what’s the cost of reducing the time? The training may end up being superficial, lacking depth with little change occurring. Without practice, people usually lack the patience and confidence to try something new. The result? The experience is seen as a feel-good or entertaining time with limited value. The money and time spent are wasted.
I’d love to hear your stories. Drop me a note. Let me know how it’s going.
Flawless Consulting Skills offer a different approach to consulting conversations! When participants learn about some of those skills, they tell me that “You can’t do or say that in our culture; you can do that in your organization, but here, it’s just not acceptable.” I hear the same thing from people in Barcelona, Chicago, Dublin, Istanbul, Tokyo, or Vienna – all across the planet.
What is it that we can’t do because of their culture?
We would like to talk about our wants, raise tough issues, offer alternatives, or deal with resistance but the risk feels too great. We feel that neither certain individuals nor the culture is ready for a different conversation. Our desire is to have Clients that see us as valuable, competent, and relevant.
We worry that using some of the Flawless Consulting Skills may disrupt the organization. Our experiences bias our thinking. So, we keep it safe. We do what the Client wants us to do. We don’t raise tough issues. We say “Yes” when we want to say “No.” Better to keep things comfortable. We “live with it”, blaming the culture and hoping that things change in the future.
Yet, we created the culture we complain about through the conversations we have with each other. If we want a different culture, we need to change our thinking, and change our conversations!
What does it take to do that? Courage!
Courage is about owning the choices we make and owning the results of those choices. It means taking a risk to deepen a relationship. It means tough conversations about unspoken issues.
Courage–the foundation of Flawless Consulting–is being authentic. It is about talking in simple, direct words with compassionate, respectful tones. It means having tough conversations, listening to others’ concerns, and being slow to give advice. Courage is offering choice and freedom. It is a precious gift to give others.
So, what do you do to act with courage?
1. Ask yourself, “What’s keeping me from trying these skills?”
What are others doing that makes me cautious or concerned?
When they do that how do I respond, what do I do?
What response do I need to choose to change the conversation?
2. Practice! This will build your confidence.
Even if you think you already use the skill or think the skill is inappropriate, take advantage of the time to practice in a safe environment–especially during the workshop.
Have a colleague practice with you.
Video yourself using your cell phone.
3. Start with friendlies!
Talk to a couple of Clients that you have a good relationship with and tell them you want to start using the skills and ask for patience as you try them.
Until you’ve had some practice and built your confidence, avoid trying them on your toughest Clients
4. Start using the skills with everyone.
…And if you choose not to use the skills, own your choice. Don’t blame the culture or others!
I’d love to hear about your acts of courage. Drop me a note. Let me know how it’s going.
We have very little resistance in our culture, Charlie.” came the statement from a participant. “We feel that our open collaborative culture promotes working together and so we just don’t encounter much resistance.”
I’ve heard those words in the Flawless Consulting Skills workshops. They come from a mindset – strategy or approach – that staff or service groups develop toward internal consulting. This mindset believes:
The customer (client) is always right.
Our client is in management and they know what they want.
Our job is to serve…to respond to their requests.
We do not question the clients plans.
We avoid disagreeing with the client since it could be seen as a challenge to the client’s authority.
Our goal is to make things work using our expertise, our special and unique knowledge.
With such an approach, internal consultants often minimize their wants, skip Discovery & Feedback phases, and move quickly to Implementation. In Flawless Consulting, the name for such a mindset is the “Pair of Hands Role” in which the Internal Consultant takes a passive, transactional role deferring to the judgment and wishes of the client.
The upside of such a role is that decisions come quickly, implementation is fast, the Consultant knows what to do, and conflict is avoided. The hope is for a successful outcome based on the client’s plan. It fits into the work smarter and harder pressures of today’s world.
The downside is that the Consultant assumes the client has correctly identified the situation and its solution. Such an assumption may impact the Consultants’ credibility and reputation if the client is wrong. Also, the Consultant may be under-utilized offering little to identifying the situation accurately or generating ideas for an effective solution. Over time, the Pair of Hands approach can lead to the Internal Consultant being seen as low value added.
The most severe consequence comes when we don’t have a real problem or implement the right solution. This costs time and money in rework and damages our credibility.
The Pair of Hands role is a choice based on a mindset wanting to serve and please our clients. It’s not good or bad, right or wrong. Like every choice we make, it has consequences. Knowing those consequences before we make a choice is helpful.
So little or no resistance from the client may be a sign that we’re operating as a Pair of Hands. If we want to change that, we need to change our conversations. The “Contracting” meeting from Flawless Consulting describes that new conversation and helps build the skills needed to move toward a real collaborative role and a real partnership.
I’ll leave you with something to think about.
“What is my approach (mindset) to working with my clients and what are the results we’re getting?”
I’d love to hear your stories. Drop me a note. Let me know how it’s going
This post on how the lure to set up programs to manage performance improvement ultimately undermines consulting effectiveness continues our series that looks at what interferes with our capacity to serve, even in the face of our best intentions. It speaks to both internal and external consultants experiencing the tensions between doing what is popular and providing genuine service to a client.
- Part 1: Consulting Complexities – Introduction
- Part 2: Consulting Complexities – The Commercialization of Service
- Part 3: Consulting Complexities – How Growth Undermines Service
- Part 4: Consulting Complexities: How Intention Gets Undermined in Change Management
- Part 5: Consulting Complexities: Our Love of Leadership
- Part 6: Consulting Complexities: Performance Management . . . Let Me Do It for You