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What it Means to be in the People Business

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When you’re in consulting, you’re also in the people business. Here are a few core principles to consider.
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AT A GLANCE

  • Assessing the type of person you are dealing with is important for effective communication and building trust, and understanding their archetype (what, why, how) helps determine the delivery style that will be most effective.
  • Asking questions and adopting an inquiry-based approach rather than a telling style is crucial in building relationships and gaining openness from clients.
  • People have a need for autonomy and want to feel ownership and success in their decisions and processes.

A while back, a colleague made a statement to me that “We are in the people business”. The comment always stuck with me as most of my Clients would say I am in the technology/management consulting business. So I constantly make mental notes when I come across something that endorses my colleague’s belief. Today was one of those times that seemed to really resonate with me, and I thought I would share with the broader population (and bare my soul in the process).

I subscribe to several fitness blogs, and normally they just contain interesting workout ideas and whatnot. But this one struck me because of the “client-centered” title. As I read the article, I realized he had arrived at a few core principles…which are the same ones I have learned (and continue to learn) while being a consultant. To save you the time of reading the article (which I highly recommend when you do have the time), I thought I’d pull out the key items that resonated with me. I’m also going to cross-reference several other individuals’ work who have gone into greater depth around these various items.

Start the process of giving advice by assessing the type of person you are dealing with. The blog author arrives at three archetypes: what, why, and how people. That might come across as simplistic, but in the moment of a first meeting, keeping it simple could be an effective tactic. Understanding the type of person allows you to determine the delivery style that will be effective for that individual.  Amy Cuddy’s book, Presence, makes a great point here – figuring out how to connect first allows you to build trust. And, trying to first impress someone with your big brain can drive them away.  Needless to say, Amy makes many other great points that apply here.

The “how” (e.g. techniques) of assessing a person and giving advice starts with asking questions. Many people, especially me, tend to have a “telling” style. In my experience, very few people are open to a telling style, especially early in a relationship. I constantly find myself going into first-time meetings with one core thought – ask questions first. There is some great work out there for an approach called “inquiry vs advocacy” – google is your friend.

People have an innate need for autonomy – they want to own their processes and decisions and especially feel that they earned their success. I have found the book by Dan Pink, Drive, to be an awesome read on this topic. I have found that I come across this core need every day for myself and my clients. Nobody wants to be dependent on a consultant.

So in summary, here I was reading an article about how to be a good fitness coach, and I realized this guy was saying the same things that I have learned (sometimes the hard way) about being a good business consultant. And then I realized (again) that my colleague is right. We both are in the people business.

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