Got Your Invitation

In the consulting world, on a regular basis, I see what could be best described as accidental lecturing and in particular it's a stronger habit in the technology sector. Organisations hire consultants for their expertise, they want help from them and not a lecture. As a consultant I'll admit in my past I've fallen into this trap.

There are those times when you accidentally get into some argument over a point, process, strategy, technique or idea. You don't mean to come across this way, it's just that you feel like you have something to bring to the table and don't want to miss the opportunity, a feeling of confidence, quite rightly so, you think you're the expert, been there before, you know what to do.

But wait a moment, did you just notice the body language of the client. They're showing little interest in you and what's being said, defensive to your suggestions, they want to go back to their emails and cut you off. So you try harder, get a little emotional about their lack of interest; You might think "Can't they see what I see? Just do what I say?"

It's a frustrating moment, so how might we avoid these types of situations?

A method I use is an invitational check, simply put I ask myself; "Do I have an invitation to talk through the advice I have in mind?"

The invitation is a metaphor for trust and without it your advice is worthless. I've learnt this the hard way in my early days assuming that because the client hired me, surely they trust me already? In reality the client has only opened the door to building trust. Advice to a client is only valuable if it comes from a trustworthy source. To avoid the above scenario is to be conscious of your trust building methods and not how cool your advice is.

What does building trust look like?

Firstly I would like to credit "The Egan Model" for improving my methods in this space, what I write next is based on Egan's work and my own experience.

For building trust is to focus on the problem and the connected opportunities, as seen by the client, it's important that you empathise with what the client knows and feels about that knowledge. I've learnt that it helps, as a starting point, to get things out on the table, ask them about what they are seeing. This first step is a great stress reliever, it's a small gesture but it shows you care about understanding their pain.

It then opens the door for the client to talk about their stories in relation to the problem. Quite often story telling around the problem leads to new truths for the client as related stories pop up, your understanding and empathy to these stories will strengthen your relationship.

As the stories emerge ask for situational specifics, thoughts, behaviours and emotions. Here you are seeking clarity, replaying what you understand and using the client's language, remembering to stay in their world without correcting them; let their own words emerge onto the opportunity canvas.

The more clarity in the story the sharper the actions will be on what to do next. The "what to do next" is where you can ask great questions like "So what might be keeping you from doing what you want to do?" and "What options have you considered?". I have found, surprisingly, these open helpful like questions will generate invitations for advice to get your expertise leveraged.

Trust doesn't happen overnight, but I would rather a client have my trust than risk appearing arrogant and unhelpful to their situation.

Also posted on LinkedIn