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.