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#260: The Meaning Behind Words in Client Conversations

Posted By Mark Haas CMC FIMC, Friday, March 12, 2010
Updated: Friday, March 12, 2010
All consultants assume they are being clear with clients, yet miscommunications still occur. Are there any common miscues that we might not be aware of?

Past Tips (#24, #54, #958) have discussed the importance of language and nomenclature in your communication with clients. We need to be especially clear for two reasons. First, we are consultants and have a set of terms and concepts related to management and consulting that may not be familiar to clients and staff. Second, we are communicating condensed and well thought out concepts and recommendations to clients, having put in far more thought than they have. In this latter communication, having had the advantage of working out the details of a finding or recommendation, we can quickly run past even the sharpest client in a conversation.

Perhaps equal to or greater in importance than the content of your communication is the underlying messages that go with it. Stay with me on this one. Consultants, even when they are familiar to and trusted by a client, are in a unique relationship that carries with it a context for any conversation. You are not an employee, nor (usually) you are not a friend. You are by both implication and contract, someone who judges a client and their operations. The words you speak and write may be received favorably or not depending on how you say them. Subtle differences in phrasing can have a profound difference.

Tip: Take time early in the engagement to assess the level of acumen with business concepts, management terminology and how closely your client and staff are following your work. For example, fielding a survey that contains big words for simple concepts may create an opinion that (1) your work is beyond the ability of staff to understand or participate, or (2) that you are arrogant and out of touch. Your words may have been clear but in both cases the message you sent will compromise the effectiveness of your engagement. Better you should adopt the nomenclature, phrasing, and traditions of the organization in your client's culture - and work hard to understand the meaning behind their words - before you communicate your thoughts back to them. Watch closely and ask frequently about how your message was received, not just if your words were clear.

© 2010 Institute of Management Consultants USA

Tags:  advice  business culture  client relations  communication  consulting terminology  customer understanding  goodwill 

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