When it comes to offering advice or seeking to influence, consultants need to be aware of a very counter-intuitive truth. Many miss it. It is this: that in human relationships positives attract. When you have a positive regard for the other party, they are likely to reciprocate. When the consultant approaches a client with a positive regard for them, looking for the good or worthy in the client, the client tends to respond and opens themselves to courage and advice.
In human relationships positives attract.
The more usual frame of reference, one I confess that have used in the past, is that I am paid to be their problem-solver. Yes, clients might well want me to solve their problems, but I can't do this as successfully if I treat my client as a problem to be solved. With this problem-solving mindset, the client can feel that whenever the consultant arrives, they bring shame and guilt. The client finds this "expert" finds fault wherever they can in order to justify themselves. I’ve found that solutions are so much more powerful and likely to prevail if the client works with me to solve such problems.
So instead I use a strategy of finding the gold in people, their strengths, their better practice, the excellence that is already there. It is making me more empathetic and thereby I appear to be more influential than I once was. What does “finding the gold in people” actually mean?
I use a strategy of finding the gold in people, their strengths, their better practice, the excellence that is already there.
Recently I was in a meeting for the first time with a senior executive client. In the course of our conversation I mentioned “calling out the gold in people” and she asked me what I meant by that. So I showed her. I said, “I can already see that you are a strategic delegator with a confident sense of the value of your own team. With multiple initiatives, in your portfolio, you are able to make the biggest difference by building your team’s performance. This shows a high-order leadership.” She was impressed that I saw this so quickly at our first meeting. What I had said was positive, discerning and true. I felt she began to trust me enough to bring her most positive self to the rest of the meeting where we explored together a way through the challenge she faced.
Something profound seems to happen when you treat people as unpunishable.
Positive psychology has been making huge contributions in business. Martin Seligman has led the charge. Others have developed powerful consulting strategies such as Appreciative Inquiry. Something seems to happen when you treat others as unpunishable, instead discovering and declaring what might be uniquely positive about them. This is now happening in organisational cultures, and I’ve experienced it firsthand. In one such organisation, I received people’s positive discernment of me initially as embarrassing flattery, but after a while, my false humility dropped. I began to believe them. It’s an incredibly powerful organisation, due in no small part for its adherence to this mindset.
I recommend Danny Silk’s work, both Culture of Honor (he’s American, so we’ll forgive him misspelling honour) and Keep Your Love On. Irony warning: Silk comes from a Christian pastoral perspective so his faith may offend those of a nervous spiritual disposition … Seriously, read Danny Silk’s work with an open mind. He is a man who writes from the trenches, someone who has worked this out for real in some quite difficult situations and cares deeply about those he seeks to serve.
Why do we perform better in a positive relational atmosphere when so much of human behaviour seems to be about avoiding risk or loss?