Consultants who are subject matter experts get kudos by demonstrating they know stuff. It’s therefore not surprising they can jump in too early with their point-of-view. That might look like this.
A client asks a question and before they’ve finished talking the consultant interrupts them with an answer. It might be a good answer, the right answer, a smart answer. But it might also be answering a poor question, the wrong question, an ill-formed question.
It doesn’t really matter because an opportunity to build deeper rapport and trust is lost.
You see, clients are looking for people who are interested in what they think and what’s important to them. By giving an answer immediately, the consultant passes the expert test but fails the empathy one.
Four things you might do instead:
- Open your mind, listen attentively and wait for the client to finish forming their question. Then ask “is there any more you’d like to know?” This often prompts a slightly more nuanced version of the question.
- Encourage the client to speak more by showing you’re interested in them. If they’re asking you something it’s reasonable to assume finding an answer is important. Let them know they’re being heard.
- Even if you think you know the answer, ask what’s behind the question. “It feels like this is an important situation for you, I’d like to know more …” Make sure you know the context from which they are asking the question.
- Playback the question you heard and show that you’ve understood. Ask the client to confirm that’s what they want to hear about, “The question I’m hearing is …. , is that right?” If appropriate, ask for further clarification,
Each of these actions deepens the level of dialogue and builds empathy. You’re able to more fully put yourself in the client’s shoes. You’re also able to demonstrate your support and consulting skills, take the client’s thinking about their questions a little further. And that will be as valued by them as your answers.
Try this yourself￼. Then please let me know how it worked for you.