Consulting advice: be likable, be yourself

By | June 2, 2014

Being likable is a characteristic of all successful consultants.  The more people “like” you, the more likely they will listen, interact, and be persuaded.  This is not a controversial point, or a deep one.  Be likable, and your life will be easier.

Likable

Don’t be fake.  This does not mean that you have to be a schmoozer, or a sycophant. As someone who started their career in sales, I will tell you that clients might not know anything about the product or what you selling . . . but they know if you are lying or don’t believe in your product.  Odd, but true.  Humans are wired to sniff out fakes.

A few pointers.  There are books (e.g., Make Friends and Influence People, affiliate link), seminars, and even coaches on being likable.  Without being an expert on the topic, a few things I have observed from 20+ years in the corporate world:

  • Be competent.  Know your stuff. Be useful.  Be a resource for other people.  In a business setting, if you are not competent. . . well, nothing really to like.
  • Be dependable.  Keep your promises to your client and your team.  In a maturity model of professionalism, this is level 0, the ground floor.  Not dependable = fail.
  • Slow down.  We are so busy that we constantly multi-task and sometimes do things poorly.  In an effort to get things “off our plate” we cut corners, don’t listen, and run roughshod over people.  When you are fast (but sloppy), it’s hard to be sure of the quality of the work.  I tell consultants to “stay frosty” and self-aware.
  • Give.  Realize that life is not about you. (deep Rick Warren thought). Give your time, your energy, your passion, and your empathy to others.  Ask the question, “Is there anything I can do to help you with your work?
  • Be self-deprecating.  This is a big SAT word, but basically be willing to make fun of yourself, when needed.  It is disarming, and vulnerable.  It shows that we are all not perfect, and lowers everyone’s guard.
  • Think relationships.  Think in terms of people, not transactions.  Put yourself in their shoes.  Realize that clients have a “day job” and are not fully dedicated to the project like your and your team are.  Ask for help, rather than demanding it.
  • Be easy to understand.  It’s no surprise that people tend to like people who are like themselves – in speaking pattern, disposition, educational background etc.  For all the talk of diversity, most people are surprisingly socially insular.  As such, make it easy for people to “get what you are saying.” Write simple and direct emails. Mirror your clients’ speaking style.  If they speak slowly and quietly, you won’t be a likable character if you come in speaking quickly and raising your voice.  Be yourself, but apply different communication styles when needed.
  • Be yourself. It’s a crazy competitive world, and the gap in quality (actual and perceived) keeps shrinking.  Unsurprisingly, there are lots of vendors, products, and people who can solve your client or prospects’ problems.   That said, you are unique, and that is appealing.  Be the best you there is.

Unless the client can connect with you – intellectually, emotionally, or otherwise – you are just another salesperson peddling product.  As a consultant, one of your most important jobs right out of the gates is to have a connection, create some common ground.  Give them a reason to like you, make it easy to build rapport quickly. Ultimately, be yourself.

Choose the people in your life.  This is a deeper point.  If some people don’t like you (and you are being your best self), who cares?  You don’t need their approval. There are misanthropes (another SAT word) and weirdos everywhere.  You don’t need their approval.  Find new people, find better people.  Find positive people.