To preface this paper, let me begin by saying that I am wholly aware of the importance of cogent consulting and the immense benefits that prudent staff development leavens to effective public administrators. Moreover, I am apt to any knowledge that will contribute to my development and make me a more effective public administrator and leader.
With that being said, in the spirit of full disclosure, I was going to drop this course after our first class meeting. After going over the syllabus, and noting the condensed semester will have no bearing on the course load, I knew it would be a struggle to keep up. Considering Ramadan was just around the corner, and my daily caffeine fixes (my loyal crutch) will be mercilessly taken away from me, I thought it would be best to drop the class so as not to risk compromising my GPA.
After thoughtful consideration, I decided against dropping the class; the primary reason being that you were teaching it. This is not an attempt to earn brownie points, but truthfully, if this course were taught by anyone else, I would not have taken it.
Having taken two courses with you prior, I am well acquainted to your teaching style. I knew if there was one person who can bring the material to life and provide me an encompassing and comprehensive understanding of the material, consummate with practical applications, it was you. I was mindful that your teaching method was particularly fitting to this course and that naturally, it would reinforce the material in a manner that is conducive to my learning style.
How is that relevant to this paper? Essentially, our class meetings encapsulated in miniature the quintessential characteristic qualities of effective consulting and staff development. As such, I cannot begin to reflect on the material without first expressing the indispensable role our class discussions, under your tutelage, rendered to ameliorating my understanding of consulting and staff development.
Admittedly, most of the benefits reaped came predominantly from the first half of the course; however, the latter half was not without meaningful content and knowledge that I found pertinent to my development as a public administrator. The focus of this paper is examining my main takeaways from the book Flawless Consulting: A Guide to Getting Your Expertise Used, written by Peter Block.
The emphasis will be on the critical role interpersonal skills play for effective consulting. As a whole, I found this book very useful but chose to focus solely on this because I believe it carries the most practical implications.
Flawless Consulting: A Nod to Interpersonal Skills
According to Block, “A consultant is a person in a position to have some influence over an individual, a group, or an organization but has no direct power to make changes or implement programs “ (2). To my liking, this definition is straightforward and precise, lacking any ambiguity. The definition alone, however, is useless, absent a framework to accompany it that posits different ways and methods to be an effective consultant. Block provides that general framework, outlining three skills that effective consultants possess: technical skills, interpersonal skills and consulting skills (5).
Indeed, the acquisition of these skills is critical to be an effective consultant but I duly believe that interpersonal skills warrant special emphasis. The reason being is that the focus is often placed on technical expertise, rather than the forging of wholesome relations that transcend the cognitive facet of consulting.
This is something several classmates expressed during our class discussions, drawing from their own personal experiences dealing with consultants – the pervasiveness of consultants coming into their organization, bestowing their knowledge and expertise, without an earnest effort to try to understand and acclimate to the organizations culture, and more importantly, the employees.
The result is a debilitated relationship that alienates employees, incurs resentment, and breeds animosity, effectively undermining the client-consultant relationship. Block addresses this point, noting that, “A major objective of every consultation is to encourage you to focus on and value the affective, or interpersonal, aspect of the relationship you have with the client” (14).
A few days ago, I found myself watching an episode of Dr. Phil. In this particular episode, a couple came to the show seeking his guidance to help alleviate some marital problems they were experiencing. In this scenario, Dr. Phil essentially played the role of a consultant. What was his approach? The first thing he did was speak to them separately, in an attempt to get to know them personally. Next, he asked them probing questions – again individually – that revealed the root causes of their problems. Having first built a personal repertoire with them individually, he then brought them out together to discuss their marital issues.
His approach was effective because he garnered their individual trust and respect, prior to “consulting” them. He positioned himself in a manner that lent him credibility by both parties, which made it easier for him to fulfill his role as a consultant. I mention this example because although does not pertain to organizational consulting, it illustrates effective consulting.
This example is also a good segue to my next point: when you imagine a consultant, most people picture a sharply dressed individual, with subject matter expertise, that enters into an organization and single handedly transforms the organization. This sentiment conjures up an image of a messiah figure making his descent into a decaying organization, working his miracles to the unbridled admiration of members of the organization, then vanishing, leaving behind a revitalized organization that will forever be indebted to him. Granted, this attitude is wrought with hyperbole but you get the idea. This fallacious perception of consultants does a great disservice to the general concept of consultancy because it relegates it to a singular axiom that is absent of nuance and gradation.
The fact of the matter is consultancy is not monolithic – in it rests numerous attributes that very in breadth, depending on a multitude of factors. Accordingly, one must remain cognizant of the prodigious nature of consultancy to effectively develop into a “flawless” consultant. Relating this back to the text, I believe the book provides a great framework that encompasses the many pertinent facets to effective consulting. What I found really appealing is that the author didn’t design the book like an instruction manual. Granted, technical and consulting skills constituted a large portion of the book, but the author also placed equal emphasis to interpersonal skills.
Hence, I believe the book is a great resource because it implores the reader to look beyond vocational skills and affix equal importance to interpersonal skills. The main takeaway is that to be a “flawless consultant”, one must have the requisite technical and consultant skills and possess interpersonal skills that I believe underpin effective consulting.
Flawless Consulting: Dealing with Resistance
Having established the importance of superb interpersonal skills to effective consulting, it follows that I address some of the practical implications that accompany it. Interpersonal skills really come to bear when a consultant finds himself facing resistance from a client. Block notes that, “The hardest part of consulting is coping successfully with resistance from the client “(129). He postulates that the nature of resistance is rooted in, “…a reaction to an emotional process taking place within the client” (129). Naturally, change is rarely received well – pushback is inevitable. Thus, an effective consultant is an astute consultant – one who understands resistance and judiciously deals with all its concomitant consequences.
The author outlined a host of causes that prompt resistance, and the underpinning skill that is incumbent to handling all of them is the same: proficient interpersonal skills. Beyond the scope of consulting, this extends to handling resistance in general. As an INTP, connecting with others has been an ongoing struggle for me because I lack emotional intelligence. I have found myself in the midst of many confrontations because I tend to overlook emotional considerations, failing to emphasize and relate to the other party. Being being void of interpersonal skills makes me far removed from a “flawless” consultant. All is not lost though because I am aware of my shortcoming and I am working to rectify it.
Overall, I believe this was the most beneficial course that I have taken thus far. The first half of class has been paramount to my personal development, and I attribute that to the self-assessments you had us take, which have already paid immense dividends. I feel a heightened sense of self-awareness, which will inform how I interact and relate to others. The latter half of class also parlayed valuable lessons. As a public administrator, and an aspiring subject matter expert, developing into an effective consultant is mandatory, and I feel better equipped to take on this challenge having read this book. Equally as valuable, was the participation and input of my fellow classmates. I got a lot out of this class by virtue of listening attentively to everyone’s input. I truly appreciated having a diverse group of classmates that each brought with them unique perspectives that were shaped by their own personal experiences. The material was beneficial, but it was everyone’s personal contributions that really brought the material to life.
Prior to taking any of your courses, I assumed that bolstering my technical skillsets would profoundly prepare me for public service – I was wrong. I am now of the belief that cultivating and maintaining wholesome relationships is the crux of public administration. Ironically, it is this very competence that I found myself deficient in. Being aware of that, I remain optimistic because I have since shifted my focus to improving my interpersonal skills.