Playwright and journalist (amongst other things) Clare Luce Booth is so accurately quoted as saying, “No good deed goes unpunished.”
We can all give examples demonstrating this statement’s truth. All of us that call ourselves consultants, as well as those that are consultants by other names such as attorney, accountant, doctor, and many others; know the truth regarding Ms. Booth’s brilliant observation.
I recently received some third-hand feedback on some advice I gave. The feedback came from a friend of a friend. This friend of a friend is the mother of a person I spoke to regarding a business idea. So, the person I advised told his mother, who told her friend who told me. I should add that this was free advice, the person never became a paying client nor was one at the time, but that is irrelevant, my advice is the same whether free or paid. Note: I need to get paid for my advice–bills to pay!
In reality, the feedback wasn’t really feedback but was more simple criticism, not even constructive criticism. The criticism was one that we consultants (see my definition above) hear all the time: “Ahhhh, he doesn’t know what he’s talking about!” Remember, this is coming from an inexperienced person about a seasoned professional.
As you can see, that’s not feedback which would give me some insight on how I can be better at what I do. In fact, when I hear simply, without substantiation or specifics that “I don’t know what I’m talking about” I actually believe that I did my job and did it well. That’s because when I hear that comment, it usually means that my advice was correct, but just not what the person wanted to hear; blaming the messenger, if you will.
A consultant’s job is to be honest, accurate, and straightforward. The person in question had a business idea and quite frankly, it wasn’t at all a bad idea. But as it is with so many things in life, the devil is in the details and his generally good idea had a number of potential potholes that could trip him up. While I encouraged him to attack the idea’s shortcomings and develop a proper business plan, he was discouraged by my warnings and suggestions and his enthusiasm waned. He felt like I was spraying water on his charcoal, even though I did acknowledge that his idea had legs and was worth pursuing as long as he addressed the challenges as well.
What he wanted me to say was, “That’s a great idea! Go for it full steam ahead!” He did not want me to throw even one drop of water on his white-hot coals. But that’s my job. I know he wanted simple validation, but my job is to help achieve success and that means pointing out and helping to mitigate the risks. Unfortunately, when we have a great idea, we think only of the great prosperity and joy it will bring us and not of the possibility that it may not have that blissful outcome.
If we are to overcome those pitfalls, we must face them, address them, and mitigate them or our plan is doomed. As consultants, we must face the risk of being defamed and called many names that label us as incompetent in order to be competent. We do our clients no service by only telling them what they want to hear. It’s a crying shame that more times than not, our clients choose to ignore our admonitions and go forth. When they do so, they do not go forth and prosper, but instead go forth and falter. And of course, when they falter, it’s our (the consultant’s) fault.
So listen to those who are experts, whether they are business consultants, accountants, lawyers, doctors, realtors, or any other professional. Just because you don’t like the news, it doesn’t mean it’s wrong.