Maybe you’ve experienced this scenario. You’re sitting in the client’s conference room attempting to help them solve a problem. In an effort to brainstorm, you come up with some ideas. Perhaps you saw the same ideas implemented successfully at another client.
With each suggestion that you come up with, they counter with one or more reasons that the idea “just won’t work here”. After shooting down a few ideas, they convey to you, whether in words or just with the look on their face, “let me bring you into the real world”.
Perhaps a condescending client is a little poetic justice in role reversal, but a consultant still needs to know how to deal with it.
Speaking from the client’s perspective, they only see the consultant coming up with ideas that the client doesn’t think will work. They think the consultants are just wasting their time. To avoid having any more time wasted, they have to say something to stop the consultant from all of the useless suggestions.
But if it worked for another client, who’s to say that it won’t work for this one? The politics are different here; we’ve tried that before; it’s just a different time with different circumstances. I’ve heard many reasons why something that worked somewhere else won’t work for another client.
And while they may be right, it’s important for a consultant to ask for more information on why it won’t work.
“What is different about the politics here?”
“How did you try it before and what were the factors that caused it to fail?”
“Which circumstances are different?”
For more information, see Client Relations for Consultants
Enter the condescending client
The client’s foray into condescension to “bring you into the real world” is a form of resistance to change. The easiest way to get you to stop is to make you feel stupid enough to quit making suggestions.
But one person’s real world is another person’s fantasy. What if their “real world” comment was just a way to resist moving out of their comfort zone?
Rather than feeding into the client’s attempt to make you feel stupid and stop making suggestions, it’s the consultant’s job to challenge their assumptions. Essentially, bring THEM into the real world without the condescension. Politely challenge their assumptions and diplomatically force them rethink their real world.
The client may be right. Your suggestions may not work there for any number of reasons. A good consultant doesn’t just take the client’s word for it. Facilitating valid reasons out of the client will risk frustrating them, but being respectfully persistent to get rational explanations about their assumptions could eventually get the client to realize that maybe it will work.
When have you had to deal with a condescending client?
If you would like to learn more about working in consulting, get Lew’s book Consulting 101: 101 Tips for Success in Consulting at Amazon.com
As always, I welcome your comments and criticisms.