Years ago, I remember going out on sales calls with one of the partners in our consulting firm, Marv Weisbord. We would most often be asked in to help a leadership team that was struggling. So, we’d be sitting with a group of managers listening to them talk about their difficult issues. I’d find myself jumping ahead and beginning to think of possible solutions……..team building, coaching, a visioning conference, a process improvement project, etc. I knew that they would stop talking at any point, turn to us, and ask what we would recommend. They probably suspected that we already had our proposed solution in our hip pocket. Meanwhile, Marv would continue to ask more questions and probe deeper. Finally, they would stop talking and ask us for our recommendations.
Marv would then calmly stand up, walk up to a flipchart, and create an approach to help solve their problem. It was always both original and brilliant. And the clients knew it. I once asked Marv how he knew what to create with so much pressure on him. His response was to say that he trusted himself to create an approach in the moment based on their struggles. It’s almost as though he was just letting his arm, hand, and magic marker go wherever they chose to go. I know that’s an exaggeration but, basically, he trusted himself.
I learned so much from these experiences. I learned how difficult it is to sit there and listen……truly listen…. when you know damn well that you have to be “on” in a few moments. Your mind automatically fills up with potential solutions and you stop listening. Your anxiety takes over. Getting up to a flipchart while not knowing for sure what you are going to create is just plain difficult. Yet, ironically, it is probably the most critical skill in consulting.
Unfortunately, that skill has become a dying art. Most consulting firms are now “expert” oriented. They have an approach or a product to sell whether it is team building, coaching, process improvement, strategic planning, or restructuring. They already have their prescribed solution when they walk in the door. A solution in search of a problem. They pretend to listen and then get up and fit their solution into the situation, regardless of whether or not it’s a good fit. Thus, my cynicism.