Adult 610#5: The Gift of Help


Tis’ the season for gift giving and helping is like a gift. In Adult Learning, we hear with great regularity that “Feedback is a gift.”  How often have I heard a student say that they didn’t wish to read what was written on a feedback sheet?  How often have I struggled to know what to write that would be of help to the presenter? Quite often, unfortunately.

As a public educator, for twenty years I gave parent-teacher conferences, participated in child study teams and assessed student work.  My training occurred sans instruction.  It was a “learn as I go” and “grow as quickly as I could” situation. Towards the latter half of my tenure, I asked students to set goals for their learning which proved to be rather challenging.  “Getting an A” typically tops every student’s list. Evaluation prior to conferences engaged students in assessing their work habits and behaviors.  The feedback collected from students provided the means to begin a discussion with parents. But what can one accomplish in ten brief minutes?

I have been rather silent in terms of discussing the actual consulting project outside of the checklists submitted privately to the professor.  In a public space such as my blog, I feel that it is important to protect the privacy of my client, thus no identifiers.

My consulting team prepared one “mini” feedback meeting to share the results of a survey created for student workers. As there were just 13 responses from October 21-November 16, the feedback was skeletal at best. The client has now postponed our feedback meeting scheduled for December 4 to December 11. We were prepared with a power point and a modified “Blockish” presentation to fit the one-hour period.  After a week of attempting to communicate with our client, we discovered that the staff has determined that they would only be available for half of the time necessary for the presentation.

Schein indicates that as a helper, I need to understand that there are “…hidden dynamics in trying to develop communication processes that will enhance learning processes” (Schein, 1999:125).  So how does an aspiring process consultant practice her skills when the client is unable to secure the time for feedback?

One of the questions that posed during the Adult Educator as Consultant lesson on Monday asked learners to consider the act of conserving honesty when teaching.  I use consulting and teaching interchangeably here, as process consulting is a method of helping that must be learned. I find it difficult to provide truly honest feedback without the basis of a strong relationship. I have almost no relationship with the client. The client does not respond to emails, avoids telephone calls and skillfully provides a rather limited period in which to meet.  My desire to conserve my honest is, in part, a reflection of both my lack of experience and a distaste for conflict. I am careful when considering my words.

Successful mutual face work is a skill that I have spent years perfecting.  At a very young age, I was told that I wore my emotions on my sleeves. The deeply held cultural rules that I was taught as a child, to use my words carefully so as not to hurt others, makes feedback challenging for me.

“Whatever words we utter should be chosen with care for people will hear them and be influenced by them for good or ill.” Dwight Goddard

It is not uncommon for me to be in a confiding communication situation as I have been told that I am easy to talk to and am a holder of confidences. I have experienced the “unwitting communication leakage” described by Schein, during a feedback meeting with a parent. It can be rather unsettling to the equilibrium that is meant to occur between parent and teacher. When I become aware of an individual’s blind spot without their knowledge, it becomes information that may inform the work that I do with a student.

The deliberate feedback that I will hope to provide to our client in the near future should help to inform the staff regarding the work that they do. In hindsight, I wonder if pressing for greater inclusion into the communication process between client and staff would have yielded greater interest and cooperation on the part of the staff.  The project belongs to the client, who passively avoided our offer of help.

The L Consulting team will regroup and continue to prepare the stage for a “Deliberate Feedback” meeting a la Schein.  As Block reminds us to show care for the client in all that we do, we will continue to be patient with our client.

Something to Chew on-

Schein says, “The key to semantic clarity is specificity.”

How can I better anchor feedback in behavior that the giver and the receiver have both observed?

This act may be the key to unlocking misunderstanding!




Schein, E. H. (1999). Process consultation revisited: Building the helping relationship. Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley.


Adlt 610 #2: Coming up for Air

gopher-blog-illustrationI’ve been a gopher this semester.  I am busy working underground, digging tunnels and trying to connect this project with the concept of Flawless Consulting. I’ve been rather silent in the area of reflective practice and my blog. I find it difficult to provide concrete details about projects, individuals, situations and my reactions in a public space. I chose to make my blog visually accessible as a way in which to engage with others in a more authentic way. Being authentic is a very public space asks me to consider what I know about myself and the way in which I perceive and react to others. My struggle is an intervention that surrounds my need to protect and preserve the privacy of the client and the project while making my learning more visible to others.

Two of the tunnels through which I have traveled this semester-

Relationships- When engaging in the act of “Flawless Consulting,” Peter Block maintains that personal relationships are critical to technical and business success.  The need to know oneself as an individual is directly tied to being authentic (2011: xviii). Building relationships in my personal life is a value that I place above completing tasks and executing projects. In an academic setting, I struggle to consider how to balance the need to care about the client and build relationships with the need to complete the tasks of the course in a timely manner.  Authenticity, Block contends, presents its own share of frustrations and challenges.  “It swims upstream in a culture of control…it also demands some faith in ourselves; we have to be tuned into the feeling dimension of our connections with others” (2011:xix).

Our meetings are poised and controlled. A limited period of time is established, typically an hour at most, which is adhered to by client and consultants. While professional and technical, I find that authenticity is lacking in our conversations with our client. My consulting team works to ensure that time is given to the technical and business problems, goal #3 of The Consultant’s Goals (2011:20). The ability to manage the ambiguity between resistance to completing the work of the project and the development of lateral relationships is a continual challenge. If I consider Block’s reminder, that resistance means that something is going on, then I am also reminded that during the discovery and inquiry stage of the consulting phase, that resistance to sharing information must be identified and expressed (2011:42). Our team did so with care.

Failure to follow through on agreements, communication or requests on the surface resemble resistance. It was my understanding, as a consulting class,  that we eschewed the role of expert consultant over one of collaboration in order to practice process consultation. Knowledge of the organization has not been forthcoming on the part of the client.  It is a challenge to contribute the specialized knowledge we are developing when organizational understanding is lacking (2011:26). The timeframe, coupled, with the intervening behaviors and needs of my client challenge my schema for relationships.

Reframing- On numerous occasions, I’ve needed to step back and reframe my beliefs about listening and helping as a by-product of relationship building. Intervention is a concept that I’ve wrestled with through this consulting project. Personally, I needed to reframe my definition of intervention from that of a noun, an intervention. to that of a verb, to have an influence on what happens. The way in which my behavior, actions or reactions can influence what happens, in this case through process consultation, can frame the way my client reacts to the process that I am proposing. In reframing relationship building from a personal to a professional level, the need to care about the needs of the client does not change.  The reality of this project is that it is an instance to practice some of the behaviors of Flawless Consulting while understanding that it is not possible to process through each phase as thoroughly as I would in an actual consulting situation.

Resistance-The concept that we are never to be neutral, objective observers (2011:42) means that no matter how sticky the issue may be, I need to confront my own personal resistance to name it.  Block presents a clever technique to refocus and recover from being a player in the game of resistance.  Do I have the courage to act on my own doubts if I leave the Feedback meeting?

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

When I fail to participate in the discussion, am I contributing to the overall problem?  

Is my lack of questioning behavior really a passive way to cover up my own resistance?  

Reference:  Block, P. (2011). Flawless consulting: A guide to getting your expertise used. John Wiley & Sons.

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.