If the span of your working career is greater than 10 minutes, you’ve probably been reminded of how little control you have over some situations. It’s frustrating, but sometimes all you can control is how you react.
Consultants get hired for a few main reasons: to do work that clients can’t do, don’t want to do, or are not as good at doing. Naturally, this work can be frustrating to your client and in it lies an opportunity we don’t hear about often.
I’ve never heard a client say that they’re hiring a marketing consultant to be a calming, stable presence on their team, but during post mortem conversations and after successful engagements, I’ve heard many clients talk about how important those traits were to the success of a project.
I’m not convinced that you can teach empathy, but we can be reminded to think about it. It’s an opportunity that we all have – full-time employees and consultants alike. No, it’s not rocket science and no, it’s not meant to be a yogic Zen hippie love-fest, but there are a few simple things that I keep in mind with every workplace engagement:
- You’re never too busy to be nice.
When people are pleasant, it’s easy to go the extra mile. This goes both ways. You’re not going to like everyone or every project, but being persistently present and pleasant can get a workplace engagement off to a good start and carry you through challenging stuff that might come up later.
- Try to understand where they’re coming from.
Human beings are frustrating. Duh. Instead of focusing on how you feel about a project, put yourself in the shoes of your client or coworker. Think about the support you’d want if you were in a jam, were distracted by personal stuff, or were witnessing a slow-motion train wreck. Sometimes, just knowing that someone is there to pivot when needed is all the emotional support a client needs to focus and get work done.
- Be empathetic.
Everyone’s under pressure. Clients, managers, you–everyone. Just reminding people that you’re here to help can go a long way. Whatever you say or promise, mean it and follow through.
- Own it.
Apologize when you’ve been an ass or could have done something better. Then really try not to do it again.
- Just chill out.
Cliché alert: This too will pass. The funny thing about work is that down the line, the specifics will be forgotten, but what will be remembered is how stuff was handled. Emotions are funny that way. In six months, today’s fire drill be one of those funny things you laugh about over drinks. Remember that it’s also an opportunity for your clients to remember that you were there and cared enough to put in the hours to get them through the challenge.
Extra credit if you mean it. A mentor of mine told me this trick a couple years back: Smile when you’re on the phone with a client. Sounds dumb, but people can “hear” when you smile. They pick up on it. It comes through when you’re the calm presence on the other end of the phone.
- Project confidence.
One time, after royally bombing a project, I was convinced I was about to spontaneously combust, or at least never work again. I confessed this to a coworker and all he said was: “Dude, you got here through skills and perseverance. We all did. Everything will turn out ok…And you might want to polish up your resume.” I don’t remember anything else about the situation, but I do remember that what he said gave me the confidence I needed to dust myself off and clean up the mess. We kept the client, and over time, grew the business.
8ish. Happy hour heals all wounds.
Well, maybe not all wounds, but I’ll leave you with that.