What makes a truly exceptional consultant? In my role of hiring, training, and managing consultants I am required to try to answer this question on a daily basis. My team members range in age from ‘fresh out of college’ to ‘retirement is on the horizon’. Often when I ask this question, I get answers that focus on industry knowledge, software knowledge and a host of other learned applications or acquired research material. Those are all important factors, but in the competitive world of technology consulting I consider these as minimum qualifications.

In my experience, what makes a consultant special is a simple, yet seemingly rare, ability to actively listen and absorb information before attempting to solve the problem. If you are a consultant, I already expect that you are knowledgeable about the field you are in, and have a passion to help others. These are the core motives that will enable you to learn your material and keep updated on changes and new technology. The majority of consultants have a baseline technical knowledge. The ones that stand out to me have the ability to seek out and clearly define the client’s pain points before driving solutions.

What I want from exceptional consultants goes beyond what a trainer is expected to do (and I also love exceptional trainers – but that is a different article!). I want a consultant to Listen, Consider, Suggest. Always in that order. Sounds simple, right?

Here is a test. Next time you are in a meeting start a scoresheet on the notepad (or notebook) you brought. If you did not bring either, give yourself a one. Taking copious notes is a way for you to show you are recording the other person’s thoughts and will take follow up action.  Now let’s begin:

  • As you arrive at the meeting ask yourself if you have already made up your mind about what needs to occur. Did you arrive with a rigid plan of action and process to follow or are you open to the thoughts and opinions of others in the room that may have more knowledge and context than you do? Give yourself a 1 if the former is true.
  • Did you interrupt anyone at any time? The tricky part here is that most people who interrupt others do not even realize it, so ask somebody else and hope you’re not surprised. If you’re an interrupter, give yourself a 1.
  • How often were you impatient to interrupt someone because you wanted to get your idea out? Usually this means you stopped listening at some point to what they were saying. If you have felt impatient or   overanxious to get your point out, give yourself a 1.
  • If you disagreed with somebody in the room, did you at any point in the conversation acknowledge to yourself that they might be correct? If you did not coinsider this your mind was probably made up before they were finished expressing their viewpoint. If you did not at least acknowledge in your own mind that the other person may be correct, give yourself a 1.

Now review your scorecard. This is one of the few times in life that zero is a winning score. No one is perfect though, so if you walk out of every meeting with a zero on your scorecard I think you might want to ask for a new scorekeeper and get their opinion.

In an environment where industry knowledge is a minimum, a consultant’s listening skills can make or break a project. Everyone likes to think they are a good listener.  Unfortunately, it’s a bit like calling yourself attractive…it’s not your opinion that matters. Next time you are in a meeting, remember to score yourself and have others score you too. When you are getting near perfect zeros, call me because you are the kind of consultant I want on my team.

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