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#17: Being the Smartest Person in the Room

Posted By Mark Haas CMC FIMC, Tuesday, March 31, 2009
For a few clients, some staff are distant or even hostile to my presence. They seem to challenge my conclusions and disparage my skills as unnecessary to solving the client issue? It doesn't happen all the time, so is this about me or them, and what can I do about it, if anything?

In several Tips we have talked about the importance of the client's confidence in your diagnostic, analytic and communication abilities. Consultants are hired because of their expertise, for their experience and knowledge, and their skills in tackling tough problems. We should be the smartest person in the room because that is what our clients expect of us. We are also supposed to be one or two steps ahead of the client, up on the latest technology and conversant in key business trends. It would be foolish to think we should be any less than our qualifications dictate. Their knowing that we are on top of their business is key to their having confidence in our recommendations.

If this is how you think of your role as a consultant, and we all know colleagues who think this way, then consider how this comes across to a client. Sure, you might have specialized experience and skills, but this does not demand that you abandon all sense of how your demeanor affects the client sponsor or others in the organization. Remember that you are being called in to support the organization, not run it. Your client may or may not be somewhat uncomfortable about having to call in help, and the reputation of consultants as being arrogant, whether fair or not, may precede your own image in the opinions of client staff. Reactions vary, but your providing value does not have to be accompanied by a sense of arrogance. You are there to advise, not make decisions about the organization. Whether you are from the US Midwest, where modesty is a central part of the culture, or from another culture where aggressiveness or self promotion is the norm, professionalism means respect for your role in the organization. Those in the client organization will respond accordingly.

Tip: A little humility goes a long way. I don't mean to just tamp down how impressed you are with your special skills. You are acting as a member of a profession whose reputation has an effect on how likely clients are to trust a consultant's recommendations and engage them in the future. Your overt show of respect and care for the well being of your client's staff pays benefits in their willingness to contribute to your success and the client's success.

© 2009 Institute of Management Consultants USA

Tags:  consultant role  goodwill  professionalism  roles and responsibilities 

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