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#411: Deal With Difficult People Like Other Consulting Challenges

Posted By Mark Haas CMC FIMC, Monday, October 11, 2010
Updated: Monday, October 11, 2010
I have a client who has asked me take on an assignment that will have me reporting into to a VP who is known to be a "difficult" person to work with for the entire project life cycle. I am concerned with how the engagement will turn out for both my client (and me) as a result. Do you have any suggestions on how to handle this effectively?

Here's how one consultant relayed her handling of a similar situation: "I took on a rather lucrative assignment that had me reporting into a 'challenging' member of my client's leadership team named Robert. I attempted to arrange an initial meeting with this person to discuss project logistics, but he was difficult to schedule around. Once we did meet, Robert was not very forthcoming with critical background information, and seemed to regard me as an interloper. I prepared an initial project plan based on what limited data he provided to me, but I felt it was far from complete. I decided to try a different approach to build mutual trust and open up communication between us. I suggested that Robert and I get together over lunch to 'break the ice' and learn a little more about each other, but he flatly declined my offer, stating that he was too busy. I tried a few making a few more attempts at establishing a working relationship, but to no avail."

She continued, "As a result, I wrote a carefully crafted letter to the client sponsor, and let him know that, although I had no reason to suspect that this particular member of his leadership team was doing anything other than a terrific job, he and I were having a difficult time getting on the same page. I told him that, as much as I appreciated his business in general and this assignment in particular, it would probably be best if I withdrew from this particular assignment. I told him that I would certainly be happy to entertain other assignments in the future, but that I felt that perhaps it would not be in (the client's) best interest if I was to continue trying to unsuccessfully get this time-sensitive project off the ground. I tried to do it in a way that did not reflect negatively on Robert (or me), but rather on the situation. It actually gained me respect from the client, as well as additional assignments and no loss of goodwill. Having said that, in hindsight, I think I should have spent more time upfront building a working relationship with Robert and attempting to directly allay any fears he might have regarding my involvement prior to the project's start. It was a difficult situation with a dedicated and senior person in my client's firm who simply had his own style of doing things."

Tip: Whether it is a lack of information ,a lack of capability or capacity on your part, or a difficult client contact, if you can’t provide value to the client as expected, you are obligated to find an alternative approach. Always try to resolve the issues up front and if you can't do this to your satisfaction, take the high road and graciously and professionally withdraw from the engagement.

© 2010 Institute of Management Consultants USA

Tags:  client relations  client service  communication  consultant role  engagement management  ethics 

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