Consultantsmind - Worlds Worst Question

This is my least favorite expression in all of consulting. “Are you sure?” Built into the question is a lack of trust, glibness, superficial concern with accuracy over meaning, and honestly, a bit of disdain.

It’s a superficial question. It’s the kind of question that is asked out of (bad) habit and does nothing to really add value other than adding stress. It is the medieval idea that slaves work better when you crack the whip a few times. It’s silly and if you are doing the kind of work where that kind of motivation works: 1) the work you have is boring 2) your people are probably more of a liability than an asset 3) it’s not management consulting.

It drops the conversation to the lowest level.  It’s the kind of question you ask unprofessional people. People who are sloppy and have disappointed you before. Those who don’t care about the quality of their work, who don’t proof-read, take feedback, socialize their finding with client, or take initiative. It’s the find of question you ask a forgetful dog, or a stupid robot:

  • Am I sure of what?
  • How sure?  51% or 80% or 99%?
  • Can you ever be 100% sure?

Yes, we need motivation. Don’t get me wrong we are all motivated by different things and it is true that many consultants are motivated by the “fear of failure”. Me too. That is what drives me to work until 2am, or revise a document endlessly. Professional services is more of an identity than a simple job. We are judged on the quality of our ideas and actions. It’s got your name on it.  You should care. If you don’t know what a great consultant should look like, look here.

No, there are better ways.

  • Ask if specific items were included or tasks done
  • Review the deliverable earlier; multiple revisions
  • Build trust on the team, so everyone understands the mission
  • Ask the author, “Do you like the work you did?”; put the onus on them
  • Ask the author, “Walk me through the main points of the ppt (or excel model)”
  • Ask the author, “What are the parts the client will have most questions about?”
  • Ask the author, “If you had another 2 days to work on it, what would you do?”
  • What parts of this do you need proof-read?

For every complex problem there is an answer that is clear, simple, and wrong.” – H. L. Mencken

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