The communication skills of our consultants differ widely and I think it is largely due to the types of interests, activities and reading each has outside of the office. Would it help (and is it appropriate) to encourage staff to spend more professional development and outside reading time on topics other than consulting?
Diversity matters, not just in gender, ethnicity and age, but also in language, mental models and communication styles. How your staff enriches and educates themselves has an effect on their communication abilities and value as consultants.
Every professional gravitates toward reading and listening to subject matter in their own discipline. Lawyers read about the law, plumbers focus on mechanics and fluids, and pilots immerse themselves in safety and aeronautics. Consultants, left to our own devices, naturally lean toward reading, watching and talking about business, management, employees, customers, processes, etc. Because this dominates what we take in, it dominates how and what we write and speak about. We are what we eat. Garbage in, garbage out. And so forth.
If we only had to communicate with each other, this might be OK. However, the purpose of our intervention with clients is to improve the nature and amount of how they interact within and without their organizations. This requires us to engage many different people, cultures, experiences, styles, perspectives and vocabularies. Directly or indirectly, many people will be influenced by what we say and write. If we can speak to clearly to others, we increase our value as consultants.
When you think about the books you will read over the next year (assuming you maintain a reading list), consider how much of that time you will devote to fiction, biographies, history, science, politics, law, humor, speeches, science fiction, mythology, journal and other types (yes, you can include training, speaking, analysis, marketing finance and other consulting-related topics). Style, vocabulary, literary constructs and metaphors vary widely among these genres and together give you a powerful set of tools with which to write and speak to your client and stakeholder audiences.Tip:
It is widely recognized that hobbies provide an intellectual counterpoint to our main profession and give us a richer perspective and ability to communicate. If you don't have one, I recommend you find a range of reading sources that will force you to think in new ways, develop new ideas and grow your language and vocabulary skills. Your ability to understand your clients and communicate will continue to grow.© 2011 Institute of Management Consultants USA