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#27: When You and Your Client Disagree

Posted By Mark Haas CMC FIMC, Tuesday, April 14, 2009
How should a consultant handle a situation when you strongly disagree with the client? I mean the kind of disagreement where the client plans to ignore my advice and do something I think will destroy the company.

There is a simple answer to this question but the action you may take may be complex. First and foremost, you are the consultant and he or she is the client. You are paid to provide your expertise and perspective in an independent and objective manner. It is not your call to make - the client is fully accountable for the decisions.

If you believe that the client is making a decision that endangers public safety, is about to commit a crime or is acting in a way outside their legal authority, the IMC USA Code of Ethics advises you to notify the appropriate authorities. However, assuming you consider the imminent decision just bad judgment, then you have three main options.

First, you can state your disagreement and shut up. Second, you can make your case strongly and offer unambiguous (to you) proof that the client's decision will harm the company, and then shut up. Or, finally, you can state your case and offer to withdraw from the engagement, citing the fact that you do not want to be associated with the coming decision. The nuances of how each case should be decided depend on the circumstances of the decision and your relationship with the client. However, the third option is not one many consultants consider but may well be your best case.

Tip: You can head off the likelihood of this happening by having a discussion with your client at the outset of the engagement. Acknowledge your respective roles and raise the prospect of strongly held opinions - yours based on years of experience and the client's based on the fact that they are, well, the client. Decide how far and by what process you foresee resolving these types of disagreements. This takes a few minutes but may save your engagement, or the client from making a big mistake.

© 2009 Institute of Management Consultants USA

Tags:  client relations  consultant role  engagement management  recommendations  roles and responsibilities 

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