I grew up watching the Peanuts. One of my favorite characters is Lucy van Pelt. Lucy’s psychiatry booth serves as a source of comical relief for adults viewers. All of the characters in the comic come to see her at one time of another seeking advice for their problems. Lucy dispenses advice which is frequently incorrect and devoid of compassion. Lucy’s primary goal for helping is to collect a nickle for the best insult that she can inflict on her client. While her need may be met, she lacks the capacity to move beyond Schein’s first operating principle, “always try to be helpful.” It’s obvious to the viewer that she has no desire to consider her own ignorance of the reality of the client. Charie Brown, typically the recepient of her advice, still owns the problem, yet has little in the way of tools to process through to a solution.
Adult learning courses typically include expectations and previous experience when making introductions. While many individuals ask for advice or for my opinion, instances to sit and listen for long periods of time are less frequent. I hear the term “consultant” and “consultation” used frequently in every day life. Individuals who supply everything from beauty products to craft supplies refer to themselves as consultants. When I meet with someone in the medical field, the consultation fee that I pay provides little to no time to build a relationship with a potential provider. When considering the number of ways in which I have either sought help or provided help to others, often it has been conducted on the fly. When parents attend conferences, they look for guidance, advice and help in educating their child. Ten minutes is certainly an inadequate time to accomplish even polite formalities. Helping takes time, attention and skill. Consultants posess the expertise. Clients own the problem and need assistance in processing to find the solution on their own.
With just two weeks into this new course, “Consulting Skills in Adult Learning Environments” I find that the lens with which to consider how to be helpful to others will certainly need a dramatic change in prescription. My concept of consultant was of one who prosessed expertise for which others would contract to receive it. An individual or organization would hire a consultant, describe the problem and off the consultant would go to brainstorm ways to “fix” the problem.
Several pivotal changes in my thought processes engage the defintions and distinctions proposed by Peter Block in his work, Flawless Consulting. For example, understanding that as a consultant, I would have some influence over others, however, I would have no direct power to make actual changes. The clients is now the individual who does the work of making the change happen because he owns the problem or the possibility. My role as the consultant is to help the client to be able to do the work.
The concept that form follows function, a principle that possibly shaped modern architecture of the 20th century, is a useful reminder to me as a consultant-in-training. What I gather from an initial exposure to Process Consulting, is that when I offer help to others that product should follow process. This concepts appeals to me as an educator. I enjoy the opportunity to teach. I find it gratifying to empower others to take charge of their situation or environment. Schein’s suggestion that that some consultants risk overworking a situation and unfortunately providing more help than is needed or wanted is a good admonition for me. While I’ve developed a greater capacity for listening over the last several years, to be a skilled consultant I will need to listen to access my ignorance.
The act of learning how to work through, or process through each phase is not only the business of the client, but mine as well. When Block suggests that “Too often consultants understand their wants and client understate their offers,” I know that the instance to help means that my personal needs are important. My work needs to reflect a balance between opportunities to help and instances for personal growth. Block’s engagement strategies will help me to think differently about my role as a helper.
The first several chapters of both Schein and Block provide much food for thought, primarily the need to develop a new schema for the concept of consulting. The idea that I should not judge how well I am doing by the way others are reacting to me is quite liberating. Of the first 5 principles discussed in class, the concept that “everything that you do is an intervention” is a powerful reminder to think before acting. In acting, am I willing to own everything that I do? The consequences be positive if I move clients to consider what is possible for them or their organization rather than what is wrong with them.
As a new consultant, I want to work and to be effective. How would I articultate to a client that the outcomes may not fit my goals for creating a helping relationship?
How much practice is necessary to be proficient in “nondirective” interviewing? Is this a skill that takes a long time to acquire? Are there other ways to keep the client in the driver’s seat and engaged in telling their story?
Block, P. (2011). Flawless consulting: A guide to getting your expertise used. John Wiley & Sons.
Schein, E. H. (1999). Process consultation revisited: Building the helping relationship. Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley.