Be objective, attentive and open when you're a 'consultant'

Part 2 Consulting Skills

Most jobs today require a more sophisticated set of communication and problem-solving skills than they did even a few short years ago. You have probably seen the need for this in your own job. In fact, your job description is probably getting broader and fuzzier. For instance, you've probably been asked to take on more job responsibilities, contribute to your own team's goals, and work with other people on cross-departmental committees. In short, your job description could be restated, "Go where the problems are and use your skills to solve them".

In this environment, many people are finding themselves in a consulting role within their own organizations. For instance, not only are "support departments" such as finance and information systems positioning themselves as consultants, but operations people are beginning to take on this role as well. If, indeed, every employee has internal customers, every employee should be thinking about how they can add value and help their customers solve problems.

Last week I talked about how to find the real cause of the problem before you attempt to fix it. Here are some more quick tips for your consulting tool kit:

·        Help them think through their issues as a collaborator.

In order to do this you need to stay close to them. Ask them where the "itch" is. Find out what projects they're working on. This information will give you clues about where you can help. Resist the urge to jump in and play hero or expert. Many people have the mistaken notion that if they jump in and demonstrate how smart they are, they will look like a great consultant. In fact, the best and brightest consultants know that partnering with the client creates the best value-added solutions. For example, when someone from another department comes charging in without asking questions such as, "What's been tried before and why didn't it work?" they can end up alienating the very people they are trying to help.

·        Practice an honest objectivity when figuring out what to do about a problem.


Sometimes an outside consultant is brought into an organization because the parties are too close to an issue or are too defensive to see it objectively. An outsider stands back from the fray and has no vested interest other than creating the best possible outcome for the organization. This can be tough to do when you are one of the parties who feels you have something to lose. The secret here is to separate the problem from the people involved with it. Imagine in your mind that you've been assigned to the problem as an outsider. Refuse to get defensive. Keep asking "What would be the best thing to do for the well-being of the organization?" Your clear, mature voice will rise above the confusion and provide direction and earn credibility.


·        Ask, "How am I doing in meeting your needs?" frequently and then listen to what they ask for as if it were their dying wish.

This seems so basic doesn't it? But think about it. When was the last time you asked one of your internal customers this question? External consultants ask this question frequently throughout a project.

When I ask people, "Who do you trust in your organization?" Their response is usually, "People who are dependable and honest". Well, how do you know if you're perceived as being dependable unless you ask. If you've let someone down, even on a little thing, the trust flag goes up. How will you build an honest relationship unless you ask for feedback often enough to bring concerns to the surface where they can be honestly addressed?

·        Say what you're thinking and feeling when you sense something is wrong.

One of the most valuable skills of a good consultant is the ability to put words around those unspeakable feelings that others either can't or won't verbalize. You know the feelings: that tightening of the stomach when you feel uncomfortable about something someone just said; or that confusion you're experiencing, but you tell yourself you'll look stupid if you admit you don't know where the discussion is leading. Consultants care less about looking stupid and more about keeping the issues in clear focus. Usually when they finally say, "I'm confused" or "I'm feeling uncomfortable with that approach" you can hear a collective sigh from everyone else in the room who was feeling the same way. Just staying in touch with your own internal "gut feeling" can be one of the most valuable consulting tools of all.

Joan Lloyd is a Milwaukee based executive coach and organizational & leadership development strategist. She is known for her ability to help leaders and their teams achieve measurable, lasting improvements. Joan Lloyd & Associates, specializes in leadership development, organizational change and teambuilding, providing: executive coaching, CEO coaching & leader team coaching, 360-degree feedback processes, retreat facilitation and presentation skill coaching and small group labs. Contact Joan Lloyd & Associates at (414) 573-1616,, or 
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