Arrogance or Confidence? The fine line

    1 FREE Audiobook RISK-FREE from AudibleConfidence is one of the critical aspects of being a consultant. Many consultants cross the fine line of confidence and develop an arrogance-confidencearrogance that turns a client off and hurts their chances for advancement in their consulting career.  In this week’s podcast, we will discuss the difference between confidence and arrogance and how to avoid crossing the line.

    1. How do you see the difference between arrogance and confidence?
      1.  Arrogance is defined as an exaggerated sense of self worth.  But one person’s confidence is another person’s arrogance.
      2. I remember early in my consulting career, I was watching someone speaking who knew a lot about their subject.
      3. Perhaps there was some jealousy on my part, and I thought they were very arrogant.  I made a comment to one of my co-workers and they disagreed.  “He just knows what he’s talking about and speaks with confidence.”Listen_Spreaker
      4. So there isn’t a set definition.  We see this in the political world too.  You’ve got to be pretty confident to run for president. And I’ve seen in presidential campaigns where members of each party complain that their candidate’s opponent is arrogant. It’s really a perception thing.
      5. So let’s take this to a client site.  You’re supposed to be an expert in your subject area and you’re supposed to be confident.
      6. What happens when you present yourself to the client like the speaker I was just talking about?  The client could see it like I did and assume that I’m arrogant, or they could see it like my co-worker and say “that guy knows what he’s talking about and speaks with confidence.”
    2. So is it really just the fact that different people will have different perceptions?
      1. Different people will see things differently.  So from that perspective, it really is.
      2. But like many things, a lot of that perception is going to be determined based, not so much on what you say, but how you say it.
      3. And one of the biggest ways your ‘how you say it’ approach will indicate arrogance is if you’re condescending or patronizing while you talk to the client.
      4. One of the best examples of this was when Al Gore hosted Saturday Night Live in December of 2000, after losing the presidential election to George W. Bush.
      5. He said in his monologue that maybe he came off a little patronizing.  And then he said “You see, patronizing is when you talk to someone like their stupid.” So he was able to laugh at himself for it.
      6. But the point is that you want to be very careful about how others will perceive you.
    3. What would you say are the warning signs that you may be perceived as arrogant?
      1. Well you want to start observing people as soon as you meet them.  Your first impression is critical.
      2. It’s kind of an assessment of your own credibility. As a consultant, I try to see how open they are to consulting.  If they have the feeling that their boss is cramming consultants down their throat, you may have someone who doesn’t want some arrogant consultant telling him how to do his business.
      3. But as I talk to a client, I’m constantly trying to get feedback from their verbal queues as to how they perceive me.
      4. Some consultants try to use self-depreciating humor by jokingly putting themselves down.  I don’t think that will always work.  It sometimes makes the other person uncomfortable and could even be seen as a lack of confidence.
      5.  The tough part is striking that balance where you are perceived as confident yet humble. And I think the happy medium between the two is credibility.
      6. So if you get feedback, either through their comments or their facial expressions, you need to be careful.  Because once you start to lose credibility with a client, it’s very hard to win it back.
      7. Part of what makes that so difficult is that the harder you try to convince them that you have credibility, the less credibility you have.
      8. But it’s important to keep a close eye and ear on your audience.
    4. How do you deal with it when you realize you’ve crossed the line?
      1. You usually don’t see it yourself.  Few people walk around knowing their arrogant.
      2. When I was in high school, the seniors had senior sayings next to their pictures in the yearbook.  These were usually witty sayings that reflected the person’s personality.
      3. I knew a guy in high school who I thought was very arrogant.  His senior saying was “I’m not arrogant, although I have every right to be.” Now this was a guy who evidently knew people thought he was arrogant and didn’t care.  He kind of played it up.
      4. I’m not sure how to deal with people like that.
      5. But there are people who think their arrogance is simply confidence. But as I said, it isn’t up to you, it’s up to the client who is perceiving it.
      6. One way that you will come off as arrogant is if you focus too much on yourself.  If you feel you’ve crossed the line, refocus your attention to the client.
      7. I’ve always been a big believer in the Dale Carnegie approach.  Dale Carnegie wrote the classic best-selling book “How to Win Friends and Influence People”.
      8. His philosophy was that people like to talk about themselves.  So instead of focusing on yourself, ask them questions about them.  And it’s not just a matter of asking them questions.  If you start interrogating people, you’re probably not going to make friends very quickly.
      9. It’s really more a matter of taking an interest in the other person. You can show some interest in them initially by asking about them.  If you’re in someone’s office and they have a picture of their kids, ask about them.  If the person is really worried about the personal privacy of their children, they probably won’t be displaying pictures of their kids.
      10. Some people have other personal things in their office.  I met with a woman once who had a calendar of horses near her desk.  I asked her about it and she talked to me for five minutes about how she owns horses and the joy she gets out of riding.  It started the meeting out nicely because she got to tell us all a little about herself.  All I had to do was take a little interest.
      11. Then, once you begin talking about business, keep it focused on the client.  Instead of telling them about your company’s experience and capabilities, ask them about their business and specifically about their business unit.
      12. Ask about their pain points.  Depending on the meeting, they might have called you in specifically to talk about a problem they’re having.  Focus on that.
      13. They could have just let you come to talk as an initial getting-to-know you meeting.  You still want to focus on their business; what they do, how they do it.
      14. Then, once you know a little more about their business, and they’re ready to hear about you and your consulting firm, you can customize what you say about your firm’s capabilities to be more focused on how it will affect them.
    5. Have you ever had to deal with someone you felt had to deal with their arrogance?
      1. Yes and that’s not an easy thing to do.  If you come out and just tell someone they’re arrogant or acting that way, they may get defensive.
      2. When I’ve met consultants that I think have been condescending to the client, I try to strike up a conversation to find out why.
      3. Many times, arrogance is a mask for insecurity.  If this person deep down, feels inferior to the person they’re talking to, they often will compensate for that by trying their best to show the other person how much better they are.
      4. I’ve seen people go on and on about their accomplishments, telling them how much experience they have and how much they know about a subject.
      5. And that’s always been kind of a give-away for me.  If someone has to tell me what a great leader they are or how much they know about something, it raises a red flag that that they may be compensating for something.
      6. I’ve always felt that if you’re that good, show me don’t tell me.
      7. So if I just saw a consultant in a client meeting that I thought tooted his own horn too much, I might talk to them afterwards about why they felt it was necessary to tout their qualifications.
      8. I’d encourage them to focus more on the client’s issues and give them the attention.  Once the client explains their issues and what kinds of problems he wants to resolve, use all that knowledge to start helping them resolve their issues.
      9. That’s the way to show them your knowledge rather than telling them about it and it’s going to impress the client so much more.
    6. What if they actually think they’re better than the client?
      1. I’ve seen some consultants that actually walk around believing that.  I’ll see them start to use big words and a lot of consultant-eze and be very patronizing to the client.
      2. And some of the firms actually promote that concept with their employees.
      3. Top consulting firms particularly tell their consultants in their consulting orientation that if the entire business world is major league baseball, then you as a consultant are part of the all-star team.
      4. It’s meant to build their employees up which is a good intention, but then the consultant goes to the client who starts turning to him for advice.  I’m not surprised the consultants start to get a big head.
      5. If I think that’s the reason for their arrogance, I try to convince them that the client is really not that inferior to us.
      6. We all have a specialty that we’ve focused on.  We may be strategy or finance consultants or healthcare consultants.
      7. The client is a specialist in what they do.  If they manufacture widgets, they may be experts at that.  And they’ve called you in to help in your area of expertise.
      8. I’m an IT consultant and I probably know more about IT or project management than a manufacturing expert.
      9. But the goal is to bring our heads together and solve a problem as a team rather than trying to show the other why we’re so good.
      10. I’ve often given the analogy of home-ownership to consulting.  Let’s say you own your own home and your washing machine goes out.
      11. You call a repairman and they come out to your house to fix it.  They’re your personal consultant in this situation. If they came in and acted like they were smarter than you and that you were an idiot for not knowing how to fix a simple washing machine, you’re probably not going to want to deal with them again.
      12. The fact is that you have skills that your company pays you for and so does he.  The same goes for consulting.  The goal is to complement each other’s skills and get the job done.
    7. Final thoughts on arrogance consulting?
      1. Every industry has arrogant people.  It’s not unique to consulting.  I’ve gone to car dealerships where the car salesman acts like a snob.
      2. But I think consultants have a self-imposed reputation of arrogance either because they think they’re so much better than the client, or because they don’t, and the feel the need to compensate for it.
      3. If a consultant goes into a client meeting assuming they’re equals who need each other’s knowledge, it will improve the chances of the two parties having a more workable and long-term relationship that works for both of them.

    Next week’s topic: Process or thought.

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