Beware the Bloviating Consultant

by: Rene van Diepen

Among the thought leaders I follow, Seth Godin is a particular favourite. A recent article he wrote about good listening reminded me of my early days as a PricewaterhouseCoopers consultant attending a PwC consulting training boot camp.

Like Seth, the instructors at this consulting boot camp emphasized the value of listening skills. The old adage “You have two ears but only one mouth so listen more than you speak” is particularly true in the context of client-consultant relationships.  Here’s why:

  • If a consultant has the privilege of being invited in, it’s because the client wants to talk. So the consultant shouldn’t be!  And certainly not more than the client.
  • A consultant can’t know the client’s business as well as the client does – listening helps the consultant better understand the client’s business.
  • A consultant can’t know the client’s issue as well as the client does – listening helps the consultant better understand the nature of the client’s challenge.

Beyond understanding the facts of the client’s situation, there are other good reasons to be listening: - I'm sorry. Did the middle of my sentence interrupt the beginning of your sentence?

  • Listening means the consultant will do a better job – because they are better informed
  • Listening shows that the consultant cares and values the client’s input
  • Not listening is at best annoying, and at worse, arrogant and rude.  How easy will this person be to work with?

Active listening and attentive silence on the part of the consultant involves interpreting the client’s business situation, asking probing and clarifying questions, and then restating the situation to confirm understanding.  There will be plenty of time later to share expertise, do analysis and provide recommendations.  Engaging the highest level of listening techniques up front ensures the consultant leaves client meetings with the best chance of having fully understood what the client wants.

I know when I have been actively listening.  How?  I’m tired!  Active listening is hard work. Trying to absorb new material, new language, new context and piece together everything being conveyed, takes a lot of concentration.

A good consultant’s knowledge of the client’s business and situation will grow rapidly over the course of an engagement.  After all they are being paid to deliver a solution based on this knowledge, in-depth analysis and their experience.  But it does take a little time.  Beware the bloviating consultant who miraculously has all the answers before even bothering to properly listen and understand your situation!

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