The Art of True Consulting Starts With Listening

With just over 4 years of industry experience under my belt, I am pleased to say that I have learnt quite a lot about good client service.  One of the key things that I was taught during my intern days by a phenomenal consultant that I had the privilege of working with – Caroline Halton- was to master the art of listening.

She highlighted that a huge problem many consultants tend to practice, is ‘hearing’ client concerns as opposed to ‘listening’ to their needs in order to help them  achieve their overall business objectives.  Her emphasis on ‘listening’ as an essential basic skill came through at every single one of our client interactions and training sessions that we attended. This allowed us to master taking down as much needed information from client, step back, listen and then provide counsel. It worked like a charm, every single time.

Another fact that we tend to overlook is that most clients often know what they need before a consultant steps into the picture. As much as we are specialists within our field of practice, the company and industry knowledge still sits with the client. Our job as communication consultants is to help them dig it out, refine it and package it for the relevant audiences.

Furthermore, our line of work grants us the opportunity to work directly with company decision makers and the authority to influence them in making overall business decisions. In my opinion, this level of influence alone is more than enough reason for us to start practicing true consultancy and not just working as service providers, mandated to do as we are told.

I recently attended a client meeting with my manager where we were both briefed about an upcoming controversial announcement that they were planning to make to their stakeholders. Needless to say, the clear level of experience came through when she sat back, nodded at every single thing client mentioned, paused for a second then fired away with all the tough yet necessary questions. The discussions held around those questions made them realize that they were not ready to publicise the announcement and that they needed to sort themselves out internally first.

Cassey Conner, top US Business Consultant provides the perfect anecdote for this kind of scenario, a clear differentiator between a consultant and an executor is that the consultant is always thinking, “…not just about the car in front of you, or the cars you can see, but about the cars around the bend that you cannot see.” Eventually, you start thinking about the future of cars and then, the future of travel.  If one is able to paint this kind of picture for every single level of interaction with clients – then you are practicing true consultancy.

When you get to a point where you have positioned yourself as a specialist to client, and they are confident enough to make you their first point of contact, to ask for ‘best-way-forward’ advise on matters concerning their business, then you know you’re doing something right.

Written by Dineo Molaba