Organizational Consultation: An Appreciative Approach–VII. The Consultative Process: Stages 1 and 2
Establishment of a Working Relationship
The second major agenda of the entry process—establishing a trustful working relationship between consultant and client—requires that both the consultant and client demonstrate competence and good intentions. Consultants effectively convey good intentions and competence in several ways. While good listening skills (including paraphrasing) are essential at all stages of consultation, they are particularly important during entry. The consultant must allow the client to describe the problem fully without discounting this description or probing too rapidly for deeper issues or sources of difficulty. At entry, a consultant should be concerned with clarifying the client’s perceptions of a convening problem or need rather than attempting to alter the client’s perception of this problem or need.
Through active and empathic listening, the consultant conveys good intentions and an initial trust in the client’s perceptions and intentions. Challenging the client prematurely often signals the consultant’s mistrust of the client’s motives and can lead to a nonproductive consultation. Bad intentions often are conveyed, as well, through premature offering of solutions or through treatment of a client’s convening problem as if it were routine, unimportant, or easily solved. The good intentions of consultants are conveyed when they treat the client’s problem as unique and significant to the client and hence to themselves.
The consultant’s competence is much more difficult to establish at the onset of a consultation than is intention—unless her reputation is firmly established already. Competence often is established only after the consultant visits the institution or initiates some activity. A consultant’s initial intervention (interviews, workshops and so forth) is often an entry-level demonstration of competence. A sense of competence is also conveyed by the questions posed by the consultant to the client. While consultants should acknowledge the unique and significant nature of a problem for the client, they also should convey something about the relationship between their own past experiences and the immediate problem. Questions concerning staffing, strategies for implementing a program, ownership of a program, levels of program funding and program goals can suggest something about a consultant’s own experiences in the area.
A consultant can demonstrate her competence most persuasively through her concern with all stages of a consultative process – ¬not just the intervention. A consultant who agrees to run a major workshop that will significantly impact the future life of an organization should be concerned about needs assessment and institutional milieu, even at this early stage of consultation. A consultant who assists a fund-raising campaign should be concerned with gathering information about past fund-raising initiatives and the current financial needs of the institution.