Three things where we, as consultants, can aim for continuous capability improvement.
1. Asking great questions.
Imagine you have a contact named Dave. He’s interested in bringing you in to work on a project. Unfortunately he has no decision making authority. Telling him “Dave, I need to meet the decision maker …” that won’t get you very far.
Better to ask him a question that opens up possibilities. “Dave, how might we get in front of Donna, so we can show her the impact of this project?”
If you’re still struggling to get an introduction, ask yourself. “How might I approach Dave, so that he’ll see the benefit of introducing me to Donna?” The same question structure, with different content.
2. Listening to understand.
I’ve written about jumping in too early before. We do this with clients. Instead of enquiring the tendency is to reply immediately to what the other person said. To try and convince and convert them that there’s a better option.
Imagine the response to our question about getting in front of the decision maker. Dave says “It would be best if you give me a proposal. I’ll take it to Donna.”
You could jump in and try to convince and convert. “Dave it would be much better if I presented the proposal. After all I can’t expect you to sell my work for me, can I? Do you think Donna might see me next week?”
Or you could uncover more of Dave’s thinking by asking him “Dave, may I ask what makes that’s a good approach for you?” Then listening some more so you understand his reasoning.
With this approach Dave will feel listened to (it’s not a trick – he was). He is also more likely to be open to other options. He may even convince himself there’s a better way forward.
3. Influence with permission.
Asking for opinions, and listening earns you a level of permission and rapport. This allows you to add to and influence the client’s thinking.
So with our example, you might say to Dave. “Dave, I’m not comfortable with making a proposal before I meet Donna. How else might I get in front of her?” That’s direct.
Less direct might be something like, “Dave what if Donna questions how valid the objectives are, or questions the project value? How much more credibility would we have if we had that conversation with with her in advance? We could make sure the project aligns with her executive Agenda. And then work together on the proposal. How does that sound?”
So, three competencies you can continue to improve throughout your consulting career.
They’re all connected. Asking, listening, and influencing.