And why are competent, often talented, bright people asking the wrong questions or the right questions in the wrong way? Consultants are highly intelligent people who are trained to research and solve problems! The answer, of course, is that in the building of their own practices, they have lost their objectivity - that same objectivity that has made them excel in their fields with their clients' projects. (I am risking redundancy here because of the importance of the concept.)
Aspirants to the consulting profession take deep gasps of air and always say (in my office or at my workshops), "This is a B I G step for me." Similarly, practicing consultants are so frightened of losing what they have already gained that they, too, are blocked from thinking things through logically when it comes to their consultancies.
Heading Off Conflict
Life is too short to be lead in "quiet desperation," as Henry David Thoreau described it. Instead, we had hoped to eliminate strife, conflict, anxiety, and frustration when we became independent consultants. Why then is there a steady stream of consultants in my office dealing with the same kinds of fears and anxieties experienced by people without this kind of "independence?" Most of us fail to see grief heading our way, even though the signs are apparent. As stated before, the client environment is generally a hostile one. But hostility has a way of telegraphing itself to anyone on the lookout. Now that you are aware of the hostility, perhaps you will be able to identify some of the warning signals that can only eventuate in a damaging enterprise for you further down the roads of some consultant/client relationships.
Troublesome clients tip you off early, in the same way that poor boxers telegraph their punches. They are late for appointments; they make disparaging remarks about lawyers, doctors, engineers, and other professionals; they haggle over fees; they treat you disrespectfully; they make degrading jokes about the consulting profession ("Did you hear the latest definition of a consultant? One who borrows your watch, tells you what time it is, and bills you for the advice."); they begin sentences with "Frankly" or "In all candor;" they speak conspiratorially about confidential matters that do not and should not concern you; they blame their failures on the work of previous consultants.
Consultants who ignore these tell-tale signs fall into three categories:
- They are just starting out, and they feel that any client is important to the eventual success of their consultancies.
- They are greedy, and willing to put up with any amount of grief in hopes of eventually collecting a fee.
- They feel like doctors, who must answer any patient's call, as well as administer treatment under any adverse circumstances for the patient's (client's) own good.
Learn to become a true conscientious objector - by listening with a "third ear," and by paying attention to what you hear.