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#226: Consultants Telling Their "War Stories"

Posted By Mark Haas CMC FIMC, Monday, January 25, 2010
Updated: Monday, January 25, 2010
I think I just made a huge mistake. I was shooting the breeze with a long-term client and talking about some of my past client experiences when I think I crossed the line by being critical. She laughed at my story and added one of her own, but I am not sure how to handle this.

This is an occupational hazard of being a consultant. You get comfortable with a client and, sooner or later, the relationship moves from strictly professional toward personal. At that point, you may feel OK with relating stories of your experiences as a consultant. There are three caveats. First is to be careful that the stories are yours to tell. From an ethical standpoint, it is inappropriate to reveal any facts or reference to identifiable clients to whom you have consulted. Even favorable stories are not yours to divulge.

Second, what does this say about your professionalism that you so easily (figuratively) throw a client under the bus? Even though your current client seemingly joined in with the disparaging tone of the conversation at the time, sooner or later she will think, "If this consultant so easily criticizes other clients, what will eventually be said about me and my firm?" Third, our inclination to tell a "personal" story because we feel so comfortable with a client is a glaring indicator that we are losing (or have already lost) our independence and objectivity. Along with out expertise, these are the foundation of our value to clients.

Tip: It is human nature to get personal with someone you like, respect and spend a lot of time with. However, this is a professional relationship. Keep your stories about past clients out of your conversation with current clients. It is OK to relate situations and facts in a nonprescriptive and nonjudgmental way (harder than it sounds) but keep your independence and objectivity as your standards of interaction. I'd even go so far as keeping "war stories" that are disparaging or unflattering out of your conversations with other consultants.

© 2010 Institute of Management Consultants USA

Tags:  client relations  communication  confidentiality  ethics  professionalism  reputation 

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