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Consultants' Notebook: Three Skills You Will Always Need

By Lucy Freedman and Laurel Bergman

Consultants are in the business of helping other people get what they need and want. To do that, we may play the role of facilitator, coach, advisor, or technical expert. In all these roles, these days we are being asked to deliver highly flexible, just-in-time services. Our clients, riding the rapids of change, ask us to assist with situations they face in their specific workplaces. They are not interested in elaborate management theories or "permanent" structural changes that we assure them will last a lifetime. In the midst of today's complexity, they was skills to navigate the current rapids while increasing their capacities for the next ones. Regardless of what consulting role we play, good consultants bring three important skills to our clients:

1) Focus: Knowing our own goals , helping clients clarify and maintain focus on their goals, helping teams clarify goals in order to build shared understanding of them. In the Syntax version, we ask, "What do you want? What will that get you? How will you know (i.e. see, hear, and feel or do) when you get there?" These well-worn questions produce profound results.

2) Flexibility: Being able to respond to changes with a broad and appropriate repertoire is valuable to people who hire consultants. Client situations these days are hardly static! Balanced with clear goals and agreements, flexibility means you can bring useful responses in various forms. The challenge of consulting is to be able to be present in the moment, yet well-prepared in advance. Good facilitation or coaching requires us to notice the interplay of tasks and relationships, and to help people bridge a wide range of individual differences. Our clients have commented on the value they received from our ability to "flex" and respond to their situations and their feedback.

3) Observation: Mirroring situations from an outside view helps clients sort and deepen their perceptions about their situation. On aspect on this is to distinguish between what we observe, and what meaning we interpret from these observations. Both observation and interpretation have value; more so if you can distinguish between them. A useful way to introduce this idea might be: "I notice (or observe)…and I interpret it to mean…." This contrasts observation with interpretation for clients, and helps them give and gather more accurate information.

For effectiveness with clients, these three Syntax skills of focus, flexibility and observation add high value. In today's business climate, these skills are survival skills for consultants as well as for clients. As we are reminded in our own whitewater reality,
"Blessed are the flexible, for they shall not be bent out of shape!"
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