Years ago, my cousin called the host of the big Thanksgiving dinner and asked permission to bring a guest. Instead of simply saying “yes” or “let me get back to you,” the host proceeded to think out loud – working through the logistics. My cousin was treated to an array of unnecessary information: the difficulty of additional chairs, more wine glasses, available standing room, etc. Eventually my cousin received a yes, but was so offended she didn’t bring her guest. To make matters worse, that Thanksgiving day an unexpected guest arrived and was seated effortlessly. The entire event caused an relationship rift from which they have never fully recovered.
This is not what I want to happen with my customers.
Communicating Clearly Inspires Confidence
The same principles of communication – which failed in the story above – should also be applied to the relationship between clients and consultants. The software consultant’s primary job when a client is speaking is to listen.
If the client needs to take action, the consultant should provide advice and guidance once they clearly understand the full situation. However, if the consultant needs to take action, it will undermine the client’s confidence in the consultant if they begin to verbally work through the steps needed at the table. It’s much better for both parties to end the meeting, spend some time investigating and planning, and then communicate a concise plan of action.
Here are some phrases good software consultants are not ashamed to use:
- Let me think about that and get back to you.
- I’m not sure what that is going to take.
- I think we can do it; I’ll let you know after I’ve checked with my team.
- We got started on that, but it may take longer than we thought.
More often than not, after giving the situation sufficient thought, it will be necessary to ask additional questions of the client before jumping to conclusions about what needs to be done.
In my experience, too many consultants try too hard to present themselves as superheroes with every answer at-the-ready – even when presented with surprise situations. Give yourself the time and room you need to answer questions succinctly. You don’t want to potentially undermine your client’s confidence in you by exposing them to details or internal decision-making which should not be their concern.