The Best Consultants Are Exceptional Listeners
As a management consultant I have given countless “informational interviews” over the years. That is, individuals who are interested in entering the consulting profession ask to sit down and talk about the ins and outs of the consulting world. I enjoy giving informational interviews, as I could not have succeeded, were it not for the kindness of those who went before me!
Most of my consulting has been trouble-shooting or problem solving. I am called to untangle complex or chronic business issues or relationships that negatively impact profitability or results. There are creative projects, too, where a firm needs my specialized expertise or horsepower to create a new program or initiative. In either case, the best consultant is an exceptional listener, who also knows what questions to ask the client.
Being a problem-solver and a good listener don’t often go well together. Most consultants talk too much, thinking that the way to success is to impress their clients with speedy answers and strong direction. However, when you listen with genuine curiosity and interest to the words that come out of your clients’ mouths, good next steps will emerge with more clarity, you’ll have fewer course corrections, and ultimately produce greater satisfaction in your client.
In problem solving, clients think they know what’s at issue and will tell you with great certainty what they believe they need in the way of assistance. However, the client is immersed in the problem and the organization’s culture, so he or she doesn’t have the objectivity to assess the real underlying issues and the best way out of the situation. The consultant needs to listen carefully to all the words to tease apart the “story” that is being lived by employees and the disconnects that are contributing to the problem. Again, exceptional listening and inquiry skills are crucial to moving beyond formulaic answers to elegant solutions that will satisfy and, even, delight a client.