What Makes a Great Consultant? Listening!

Being a great listener is important in many aspects of a person’s life. Friendships, family relationships, and peer relationships thrive on the listening skills of those involved in order to be healthy, functioning connections. Here we discuss business relationships.

They require excellent listening skills due to the many potential financial, organizational, and operational impacts to all parties involved. In a consulting environment where a consultant has made a commitment to helping their client create the best possible solution for their needs (whether realized yet or not), listening skills can positively or negatively affect their progress towards the projects’ ultimate goals.

Listening is so much more than the literal act of hearing; I like to break down the listening process for consultants like this:

Listen, Question, Confirm.

Many times a client may not exactly know or clearly identify their needs until you begin asking questions about their processes, programs, systems, etc. Questions themselves are just as important to the act of listening. Asking broad, open-ended questions at first, paying acute attention to the client’s answers, and following up with a more detailed, relevant, and impactful response (or another question) can show the client they are actually being heard and understood. This will give them confidence in the decision they made to entrust the consultant with their business’ challenges.

Having great listening skills can involve more than hearing what the client literally says in a meeting or writes in an e-mail. Every person/client communicates differently, some more or less than others. Clients may expect the consultant to come in and lay out their suggestions even though the consultant was not provided much preliminary information.

A consultant needs to be able to read the situation and adjust their listening skills accordingly. Be flexible. Observe non-verbal communication cues like speaking tone and physical reactions, draw on previous consulting experiences and personal knowledge, and craft a response based on those. Once the initial suggestions have been made, then the aforementioned questions can be asked to incite further, more detailed responses from the client.

Rounding out the listening process, a consultant must also show the client they are listening by confirming what they believe are the needs of the client. This can be done by repeating in the client’s own words what they comprehend are the expectations, deliverables, and outcome.

Finally, show the client they were understood by making it happen! Crafting and implementing a well-thought-out, successful solution to a client’s problems is the best way to show a client they were heard.

There are many opportunities throughout a project for a consultant to utilize their listening skills – and that is important because a client’s needs can change over the lifetime of the project. The listening process is never over, so a consultant should always keep their focus on what is most important – the most effective solution to a client’s needs.

So listen – really listen – and the pieces will begin to fall into place for the completion of a successful project!

What keeps you focused on effectively listening in your day-to-day business dealings?

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