Mike O. explains how he came to understand what it means to be a trusted advisor.
Getting It Right
I had been a consultant for many years. I had a good sense of what client service meant – that I should pursue the right thing for my client, rather than just what I thought was the coolest idea.
I had learned the importance of communication. You had to be clear on your thinking in the first place, then be articulate about getting points across. I knew about body language, about using graphics and not just data, and about dramatic presentations.
I knew all this was hard work and that even with good effort and skill, it was still not an easy task to persuade clients of what I knew to be in their best interest.
Then one day something happened.
Getting It Inside Out
I’d gotten to know Manuel reasonably well. We had spent time together “thinking aloud” and had gained respect for each other as thinkers.
We were talking about some business issue, I honestly don’t recall what. Toward the end he asked me what I thought he should do about a particular angle.
At that moment I was completely at ease. The job was going well. He and I got along nicely. It was a sunny day.
I knew the issue inside out. I knew what Manuel was good at and not good at, what he liked and didn’t like, and how he was likely to respond to the particular situation.
In that moment I could envision exactly what would work for him – while still from my perspective as an outsider. It was like being him, but without any attachment to either his limitations, or to my ego. I knew what would be exactly right for him to do.
“If I were you,” I began – and suddenly everything changed.
He leaned in toward me, relaxed, but focused and intent on what I was going to tell him. He really wanted to hear what I would say next – and I knew he was going to do exactly what I suggested.
Now, I know how to read body language. I realized this had not happened before. Every other time I gave advice to clients, they leaned back or sat up straight; they stiffened their back, rather than relaxing. Their eyes narrowed, rather than opening up; they were preparing to evaluate what I had to say.
But Manuel wasn’t in evaluation mode; he was going to accept exactly what I said, and we both knew it.
If I Were You…
I realized later those words both triggered and expressed a new perspective. Until then, I had always thought of consulting as telling the client what I thought they should do. I was the expert, they were paying me to get my expert advice. I packaged my advice to maximize the chances they’d do the right thing.
But it was always me, advising them. With Manuel, for the first time, I’d gotten outside myself. I’d realized what I would do if I were him.
I no longer had to be me, telling my clients what to do. I could tap into being them, imagining what it was like, what would work, and what wouldn’t. All I had to do was imagine putting myself in their shoes.
I realized they really did want my advice – if I was a steward about it, really reflecting their take on things. I became more careful about giving my advice, waiting until I not only had the facts and the problem straight, but had a chance to empathize with the client as well. That way, when the time came, I knew I could sincerely say, “If I were you…”
Consulting began to get a lot easier. I still had to do the leg work, the thinking, the presenting. But I no longer felt it was a struggle. I now know, my best advising comes when I’m able to put myself in the other guy’s shoes.
Thanks, Mike, eloquently said.