If I Were You…

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.

Empathy is the Antidote to Resentment

If you’re groaning at the prospect of another ‘soft skills’ blogpost, hang on. The soft stuff is what enables ‘hard’ stuff like profits, speed and success. Here’s what I mean.

You Might Be Copping a Resentment If…

You may not think you’re a resentful person. And maybe, graded on a curve, you’re not.

But how often do you find yourself muttering at the driver who cut you off; re-arguing arguments in your head, where you win this time; waking up in the middle of the night pre-occupied with your checking account; and gossiping with someone about how so-and-so really isn’t all that?

All those are versions of wishing you could change reality—when you can’t. And that’s a pretty good definition of resentment.

It’s the difference between hoping and wishing. Hoping things will change is fine, particularly if you’re doing something to help the change. But wishing that things were other than they are—that is living in an alternative universe. And that’s resentment. It’s fine to hope you win the lottery—as long as you bought a ticket. But wishing you’d won last week’s lottery—that’s resentment territory.

By living in an alternative universe, you’re playing at being God. Unless, worse yet, you think it’s not play, and you actually believe that all your wishing makes a dime’s worth of difference to Reality. There is a God–and you’re not it.

Resentment generally, eventually, manifests as resentment against other people. But personal resentment is like taking poison and waiting for the other person to die. All it does is eat you up from inside, while the Resented One is either blissfully unaware, or at least generally doesn’t give much of a damn. 

Why Resentment Kills Sales and Influence

This is not afternoon TV psycho-babble. It makes a daily difference in business—a huge difference. Let’s just take business development and advice-giving.

If you are prone to the Black Art of Resentment, then you are likely to believe in short cuts, quick fixes, fad diets, new interpersonal techniques, flashy methodologies, and come-on lines for dating bars. Because all those gimmicks appeal to your desire to live in a world other than this one: one in which you can dominate, control, bend the other’s will to your desire. And when they let you down—and they do, and they will—you will once again feel Old Friend Resentment (or its kissing cousin, self-pity).

People don’t buy from those who are trying to change them. People don’t pay attention to people who are trying to persuade them to their own viewpoint. People don’t take advice from those whose egos are tied up in having their advice taken. They interpret all those things as attempts to manipulate, and they shun the manipulator. This is not a good thing.

The Best Way to Sell and Influence

The best way to sell and influence is to get rid of resentment; get rid of living in alternative universes; accept everything, starting with the customer in front of you.

Acceptance in this case means taking them at face value, getting to know them on their terms, giving up all attachment to outcome (because that’s about you, not them), and applying your focus, energy and attention to them. Let’s call that empathy.

If you do that, and spend your time and energy seeking to understand them, you’ll do a far better job of understanding them and their needs than all the other resentment-fueled alternate-universe salespeople and advisors. One result of which is, you’ll end up selling more and having your advice taken more often.

Goals are Great, but An Expectation is a Pre-meditated Resentment

Goals are great. So are objectives and milestones and targets. They give you a sense of what you’re aiming for, and help you envision the to-be state. 

But don’t confuse goals with their purpose. The purpose of a goal is not to achieve the goal—the purpose of a goal is to help you achieve your True Purpose. You should never confuse a quarterly sales quota with a Purpose.

It’s when goals get transmuted into expectations that we confuse goals with purpose. When we start living in that alternative universe defined by the goals, when we start obsessing over the new car, winning the contest, getting the boss’s approval, ranking in the top 20% on the bonus plan—that’s when we begin to have expectations. And an expectation is a pre-meditated resentment. When we expect, we are setting ourselves up for resentment.

Plan, set goals, and strive. Then celebrate what you get; because to bemoan what you haven’t got is to live in resentment. A life spent wishing you were other than you are is a failed attempt at playing god, and a recipe for unhappiness—not to mention poor sales.








Interview Like a Trusted Advisor

Recently I had coffee with a group of newly unemployed professionals in my community. Most of them haven’t had to interview for a few years, and they were looking for an edge.

I thought about it and realized – many interviews are conducted on both sides by people who really don’t know how to interview. The interviewer asks questions, presumably to assess fit, and the job hunter tries to impress. That can be seen as over-confident or desparate, in either case, without regard to whether the job hunter is truly right for the job.

I suggested another approach: The real goal of both parties ought to be to determine whether there is a fit on all levels. Change the dynamic of the interview itself to a collaborative discovery. It may not be easy. Interviewers may not be skilled and veering off the prepared questions and format may be difficult. Job hunters want to show that they have what interviewers want, and may be afraid to acknowledge where they fall short.

Changing this dynamic requires both of you to take the risk of thinking unconventionally. If you can move the conversation to what’s really at stake for both parties you can truly distinguish yourself.

How can you collaborate wth the interviewer? Here’s what I suggest:

1. Explore the job requirements together. Understand what is needed and why. Discuss the specifics of what needs to be done, how it’s been done in the past, and why there’s a need to fill this job now. Don’t be afraid to discuss whether it makes sense. Better to address the job now, than for the employer to discover two months from now that the need was different than originally thought.

2. Discuss the ideal candidate. Ask what type if person would be perfect for the job and why. You may agree or have input. Find out what got you in the door – what intrigued someone enough to interview you. Ask what qualifications the interviewer thinks you have, and those he or she thinks you lack. Discuss those qualifications openly.

3. Sell by doing, not by telling. Make it easy for the interviewer to see how you might approach a situation in the job. Your exploration of the job requirements might uncover something that your role might address. You might have enough information by now to talk about how you would address the situation.

4. Understand the decision-making process. Ask the questions that will help you understand how a hiring decision will be made. And it’s not a bad idea to ask about the other talent they are interviewing. If you bring up the subject in a collaborative rather than competitive way, it will be heard with the genuiness you intend.

5. Be open and clear about whether you believe you are right for the job. Express whether you think you are and note your concerns. Don’t be afraid to refer to what got you the interview in the first place.

Notice there is absolutely nothing in these steps that says you should try to dazzle the interviewer with your credentials and your brilliant ideas. Nothing that talks about you selling yourself in the traditional way. Being transparent and collaborative in an interview requires that you are not arrogant (usually a sign of weakness), and certainly does not give the impression that you are desperate for a job.

Not to say you shouldn’t put your best foot forward. Or help the interviewer see what you can do – and how that might benefit the company. But do so only after you learn as much as you can about the job, and only as part of a mutual exploration into whether you might be the right fit. If you are, after a single interview you’re well on your way to earning their confidence and their trust. Then you will both understand that the interest and enthusiasm you’re expressing by the end of the interview are genuine. With the beginnings of trust established you’re bound to find your odds of landing the job substantially improved.

Do you have other tips for interviewing that build trust? Please share them as comments here!