The mantra that a good consultant “tells people what they need to know not what they want to hear” is a cliché, but it still sums up a basic truth about the consultant/client relationship.
There’s no point in you hiring me if you’re already convinced you know what needs to be done and just want me to tell you that you’re right.
There’s no satisfaction for me in buckling down to do what you want if I think it’s wrong. If we can’t come to an agreement about the way forward, the grown-up response is for everyone to agree that the relationship won’t work and walk away from it.
I’ve never found being grown-up that easy, though.
I met a prospective client last week. A small voluntary sector body, with big ambitions to change the world by… well … anyway, it was going to be great and all that was holding them back was the failure of the world to realise what a great thing it would be if …
Their problem was they couldn’t explain to me exactly what it was they wanted to do – other than repeating “we’re in the business of changing people’s lives”. My problem was that I couldn’t stop asking awkward questions like, “how are you planning to do that?” I don’t think we could have worked together. I liked them a lot – idealists and optimists are fantastic to be around – but eventually you need some realism in there too or else nothing gets done. They said they liked me too, but my attempts to bring the conversation round to practicalities wasn’t what they wanted to hear. There’s a lesson in there for next time.
Despite knowing that it wouldn’t have worked, I’m left with a sense of frustration that I couldn’t persuade them to harness their vision to my pragmatism and see what happened. At which moment, in stepped Seth Godin, with exactly the blog post I needed:
“Don’t take it personally.”
This is tough advice. Am I supposed to take it like a chair? Sometimes it seems as though the only way to take it is personally. That customer who doesn’t like your product (your best work) or that running buddy who doesn’t want to run with you any longer…
Here’s the thing: it’s never personal. It’s never about you. How could it be? That person doesn’t truly know you, understand what you want or hear the voices in your head. All they know is themselves.
When someone moves on, when she walks away or even badmouths you or your work, it’s not personal about you. It’s personal about her. Her agenda, her decisions, her story.
Do your work, the best way you know how. Is there any other option?