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How to Become Your Own Consultant

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We have all heard the adage, "Physician, heal thyself." What is being recommended here is, "Consultant, consult with thyself." How come we're so good at solving our clients' problems and not our own? The answer of course, is that we often lose our objectivity - our primary consulting asset - when it comes to our own consultancies. Well, it is also said that the surgeon should never operate on his own child, or that the child psychiatrist's child could well be a hellion, even though the therapist's techniques help other people's children. For myself, were I a competent surgeon at the top of my profession, I wouldn't let anyone else operate on my child; and if my child were a hellion, I'd consider myself a failure as a child psychiatrist and as a parent. Our professional problems can and should be laid bare to the same cold objectivity as those of our clients. And we should be our own best consultants. A problem that is unsolvable is a dilemma; and I have yet to meet a consultant in my office who had a dilemma. More often than not, he or she could not find an answer because the wrong question was asked, or because the right question was asked in the wrong way. No more than that - except in those cases where the consultant is psychologically self-destructive and bent on losing.

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:
  1. They are just starting out, and they feel that any client is important to the eventual success of their consultancies.
  2. They are greedy, and willing to put up with any amount of grief in hopes of eventually collecting a fee.
  3. 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.
All, of course, are wrong. The first group learns all too soon and well that a) the project will fail, b) the failed project will detract from, rather than add to their professional credibility and c) the time would have been better spent in soliciting a solid client. The second group is wrong, because in most cases the fees are not collected as billed. And the third group is wrong, because the troublesome client never responds to the "treatment" any-how. The point, however, is the grief suffered by the consultant. Having spotted these danger signals, you should by now have sufficient awareness to quickly determine that you don't need this hassle in your present life - and walk away. This kind of frustration occurred for you in a previous incarnation.

Learn to become a true conscientious objector - by listening with a "third ear," and by paying attention to what you hear.
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