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You Must Be Psychic! March 28, 2010

Posted by Jason in Daily PM.
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It’s (hopefully) well known that psychics use all kinds of tricks to induce the illusion that they can see into the unknown.  Leading questions, rephrasing the customer’s own statements, some educated guessing, and deflection of any seemingly off-base predictions are part of the toolkit.

As unsavory as this may seem in that context, consultants are often faced with a similar challenge: teasing out as much information as possible from a new client, framing the information in terms of the professional’s expertise, and getting positive feedback that they are heading down the right track.  Indeed, for those consultants who have truly seen many similar situations, the initial assessment can often seem psychic.  Many might even jump to rapid conclusions and begin making predictions about what might be the problem.

Hopefully, you can foresee where this is going.  That first consultation – perhaps the first few – is an information gathering session.  If there is ever a time to hold true to the 80/20 rule, this is it.  Virtually every word out of the consultant’s mouth should be a question or at least a clarification or prompting to continue a particular line of reasoning.  It is not the time to bring out the big hammer or nod knowingly after hearing a few buzzwords that have you mentally preparing to vomit your wisdom all over them.  If you’re not listening, you’re doing it wrong.

Sure, we know, you’ve seen it all before and been there done that.  That’s not the point.  It’s obviously comforting to know that you have the tools available and experience to do the job.  If you didn’t, you wouldn’t be in the meeting in the first place.  Now is the time to build a relationship and demonstrate self confidence by letting the client explain the details.  I would go so far as to say that if the answer really is that easy and you think you have it figured out after the first meeting, either you are missing the big picture or you are bringing so little value to the table that your engagement is on thin ice to begin with.

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