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#95: You Don't Have to Answer Every Question a Client Asks

Posted By Mark Haas CMC FIMC, Friday, July 17, 2009
Updated: Friday, July 17, 2009
There are some questions I get from clients, often staff not so happy about my being there, that seem like challenges and that I am reluctant to answer. How do I delicately handle these?

Just as the mark of a good consultant is knowing when not to talk, a good consultants also knows how to handle questions. If, as you suspect, the conversation you have with staff is really a challenge disguised as a question, then you need a plan to handle these.

Consider the following as a template to answer (you can modify this to suit your needs, but it is a good start):
  1. Is it really a question? Consider “questions” presented by a stereotypical prosecutor in a courtroom when trying to lead a witness. Is it just a statement with a question mark at the end?
  2. Is the question valid? The question “have you stopped beating your wife?” is an example of a question that is not something straightforward to deal with.
  3. Is the question something you should be answering? It may be that, even if it is a question and it is valid, it may not be something appropriate for you, as a consultant or as you individually, to answer.
  4. Do you need to answer it now? Given all the above, maybe there is a better time to address it, like when you get more information, or at a more politic time.
Use these as the basis for your explanation why it is not appropriate for you to respond.

Tip: Part of our maturation as consultants is to be more present in our interactions with our colleagues and clients. This can mean being aware of responding to every stimulus without stopping to consider the implications fo that response. There’s no shame in pausing before answering – or declining to answer.

© 2009 Institute of Management Consultants USA

Tags:  communication  confidentiality  consultant role  ethics  values 

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