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.”