Save face. This is a simple concept that is critical for consultants and sales people to understand. Never put your client in a situation where you are directly and publicly disagreeing with them. Never box them into a corner where they might be ashamed of the situation. Never embarrass them. It’s a very Asian business culture concept of harmony, and it is super-applicable to consultants. Some of the most deadly phrases:
- I think you are wrong . . .
- Let’s agree to disagree. . .
- Well, I have a different opinion. . .
- Well, if that is what you think. . .
All consultants know that words are powerful and frame a discussion with the client. A few good phrases that I have found useful during my career in consulting:
- In my experience. . .
- Maybe it is just me, but. .
- Yes, I agree, AND. . .
- Makes sense, do you think that its possible that. .
In my experience. . . this is a (not so) subtle way to tell your client that you have done this kind of work before. It allows you to lead into a recommendation that you are advocating for. It might be something that worked at a previous client. Don’t be afraid to use an anti-example. . . In my experience, ABC does not work because. . .
Maybe it is just me, but . . . this puts the burden of being wrong on the consultant, and points out that the sample size is small. It is just 1 person’s opinion.
Yes, I agree AND. . . this is a little verbal judo. Don’t want this to seem disingenuous, but there probably bits and parts of what the client is saying that you DO agree with. Build on those. Think incremental improvement. Rarely is life black & white. Nudge.
Do you think it is also possible that. . . ask the client to agree to a small part of your argument first. Often times, clients who have been in the same company for 30+ years have hard-core biases on what works and what does not. Part of our job is just to open the curtains and let some light in, just the possibility of different outcomes.
- Win-win. Build on the analysis that your client has already done
- Emphasize the headwinds: Make it clear that the current problems have many factors (of which some / many) are out of the client’s control
- Gain trust early. The sooner that you gain the client’s trust and become an adviser, the sooner you can push-back appropriately.
- Ask for feedback too. Ask the client what areas you can improve and get better. They should not be the only ones who improve.
- Let your clients present. Don’t take credit. Let your clients present the results to their boss. Make them the heroes.
- Nudge: Beware of default choices
- Consulting skill: How to build rapport quickly
- Consulting Habits: Make Other People Successful