Adlt 610: #1 Wearing a new lens of possibilities-

Lucy is certainly devoid of authenticity.
Lucy is certainly devoid of authenticity.

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.

Something to Chew on-dog-from-chewing-e1438880851338

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?

Works Cited: 

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.

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2 thoughts on “Adlt 610: #1 Wearing a new lens of possibilities-

  1. Laurie, what an amazing first post. Both in content, aesthetics, and technological expertise. I may be stealing some of your techniques!

    I share your experience in needing to immediately and radically overhaul my thinking about what a consultant is- not an expert, but a partner in helping the client solve problems for herself. My questions and concerns are not so much in wondering if it will take practice and experience to be a proficient and helpful “non directive” inquisitor (it will- I think we need to just practice this skill on everyone, any chance we get), but how to remain present in each moment and constantly be aware of who we are helping and who is the client (see Schein’s chapter 4). This is what seems almost impossible to me.

    I love how you started off your blog focused on two things: authenticity and helpfulness (Lucy having neither). I was most struck with the comment Block made in the (wonderful) video you imbedded: “People don’t resist change, they resist coercion.” I think this is a wonderful thing to keep in mind when we are determining who our “unwitting clients” or “non-clients” are (Schein, chapter 4), and this may help all of us in becoming more proficient in that non directive questioning. It will also help us be more authentic. If we are straightforward from the beginning, taking Nancy Sanchez’s advice to “Tell them what we’re going to do, do it, then tell them what you did” then we can ensure that we are always authentic and helpful. And we will be constantly aware that our every action is an intervention.

    Great blog!

    Jennifer McCluskey

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  2. Hi Laurie,
    I gotta figure out how to put videos and such into these blogs!

    I am interested in your final question you posed: “how much practice is needed to be proficient in non directive interviewing?” My guess is that it would depend on the practitioner! And who you are interviewing! I know in some teaching models, 350 contact hours would place you in that “proficient” realm….you’d still need mentoring….you’d still need observations and immediate feedback from your mentor..and you would still need to keep working with clients/students! I think one of the things I most appreciate about both the Schein and the Block texts are the almost step by step instructions (illustrated anecdotally with pit fall scenarios)on how to achieve this proficiency with process consultation. If you are authentic and mindful with your engagements, the path of the interview will start to reveal itself. The interesting part is you and the client are walking on the path together, shoulder to shoulder, and when you hit a fork in the road, you both weigh in on the decision over “which way do we go?” Within this model of process consultation, your proficiency is married to the concept of mindfulness and honest assessment of the situation, whatever it may be.

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