What colour is your shelving unit?

For the longest time, I have fought and spent time on the manner and the “how” I get a project delivered, thinking details make the difference, mark people’s minds, and sometimes memories. I heard both bruxist (or teeth-clenching) and supportive remarks while at it, from the end users, professional partners, and, of course, my clients. Whether they make me feel like I missed a dozen of boats or I am actually driving the leading locomotive, once I have digested the ego scratches and gotten back onto the saddle, they just boost me to get better.

Recently, I got into what seemed an endless conversation with another consultant who happens to work for a client of mine. Customer / client service, I hear, is a big thing (not that it is a breaking news to anybody), and, listening to this consultant in meetings, regularly interrupting any contributor who may suggest a different viewpoint from his, I caught myself drawing some fairly blunt conclusions about him in his professional capacity (not as a person). Why would I do that? Probably because our conversation was turning into a dead-ended arm wrestling game: frankly, whether our client was part of it or not, I found the scenario pretty destructive and felt I had to step up. Which I did.

Coming to an agreement which brings value to our client is my only concern because it becomes part of the results I offer. Call it loyalty to my client, if you want: I am happy to follow that route as long as it aligns with my basic ethics (such as mutual respect, acting legally, refining my client’s processes, for instance, and being able to see the same person (i.e. me) in the mirror every morning). I am not a salesperson, yet I am aware that, as a consultant, my ideas and suggestions can be seen as a commodity: my job is to maintain a reliable shelving unit presenting items both adequate and adapted to my client. It is about selling, therefore it is about relationship and social skills (and maybe the colour of that shelving unit too).

Although I acknowledge developing a slight irritation towards political correctness in general, I also manage to discern when it is relevant and appropriate to follow some rules, behavioural or purely professional, around my clients and other counterparts: I know too well the cost of acquiring and the value of retaining a client. Cutting people off in meetings, or showing some condescendence just does not belong there. My client may not always be right, yet s/he gets to pay the bills: it is not mind-bending to manifest some respect and treat her/him with dignity. I am not ready to back down when this is lacking.

I keep learning through that kind of challenge, the human one that is: one can stand up for what s/he believes fits the situation and use diplomacy at the same time. We rarely catch flies with vinegar, and sourness is better left out of a consulting menu.