Expressing Wants: A Basic Flawless Consulting Skill

In the Flawless Consulting Skills workshops, we stress that you’ll want to change your conversations . . . the way you talk to your clients, your boss, and to each other. We see that new conversations will move you toward partnership. For example, in our initial conversation with our clients, our goal is to get an agreement on what we are going to do and how we are going to work together. We call this the Contracting Meeting. As consultants, we want to be clear about what we want to help the client be successful.

Expressing those wants often causes anxiety for the consultant. Consultants feel that to say, “I want . . .” is too direct, aggressive, potentially disrespectful, and may be harmful to building a partnership with the client. People often use national, regional, or corporate culture as a reason to not use these skills: “You can’t be that direct in this culture. Others won’t like it.”

This is more about our own anxiety (resistance) than the culture. It is a human issue. Being direct is uncomfortable for all of us. We are concerned that we will be misunderstood, be considered disrespectful, or anger the other person.

There are a variety of styles that people use to express expectations (wants), some more direct than others.

Here are some examples of how one might express a desire to interview the client’s direct reports . . .                                     

You could use… 


Closed-ended questions

“Could I interview your direct reports?” (weak)

“Is it okay with you if I interview your direct reports?”  (weak—seeks permission)

Open-ended questions

“What’s the possibility of interviewing your direct reports?” (weak)

“What do you think about me interviewing your direct reports?” (weak)

Indirect Statements

“It would be helpful to talk to your direct reports.”  (may be confusing)

“Sometimes in projects like this, we try to interview the manager’s direct reports.” (may be confusing and get ignored)

Direct Statements

“I would like to interview your direct reports.”  (may get ignored)

“I need to interview your direct reports.”  (may sound aggressive)

“I want to interview your direct reports.”  (can negotiate)

Now, any of these might work and you’ll get what you want. I’ve used them all at one time or another. However, when I did, I often ended up with an agreement that needed to be clarified later.

The key is keeping our words direct, simple, specific, and descriptive AND our tones supportive, non-punishing, and non-judgmental. Stating a want with harsh or argumentative tone can be off-putting, while a weak or timid tine might get ignored.

When you try using these skills, start with people with whom you have a good relationship—don’t start with your toughest client! Also, listen to the language your clients use when they talk to you—you may find that they are direct with you. Partners speak the same language.

We believe that direct words and supportive tones are most effective in being clear and building partnerships. We also recognize that the style is your choice. Recognize that in choosing questions or indirect statements, you may be using a style that will not create the partnership you want.

I’d love to hear about your experiences in expressing your wants. Drop me a note. Let me know how it’s going.

Charles L Fields was a highly acclaimed Senior Consultant at Designed Learning and a lover of life. He traveled the world by car, rail, plane, and ship, watched the sunrise on Croagh Patrick, and set on Victoria Peak, weathered a perfect storm in the Pacific, bartered for a darbuka in the Grand Bazaar, prayed at Lord Nelson’s Sarcophagus, ate lunch in the oldest restaurant in the world. His prolific and thought-provoking writing contributed to the design and re-design of many DL products, including Flawless Consulting, Empowerment, and Stewardship. Charlie shared his passion for this body of work in over 25 countries. His impact is a blessing.