HOW CONSULTATIVE FINESSE BEATS TYPICAL FIGHT VS. FLIGHT IN STRESSFUL WORK SITUATIONS

– BY ROLF FOSTER-JORGENSEN, GLOBAL CONSULTING AUTHORITY, CERTIFIED HIGH PERFORMANCE COACH,
AWARD-EARNING FACILITATOR/TRAINER

Think back to a time when you felt embarrassed at work. Perhaps a boss disciplined or someone else ridiculed your work, or you just said something on a group call that you wished could have been retracted and erased from everyone’s memory. I’m not trying to make you feel discouraged, as everyone has had similarly unpleasant experiences. It’s difficult to deny that it was stressful and hurt, even if you rationalize that the conflict made you stronger. Truthfully, those are instances where our inner drive kicks in to want to either fight or flee.

My older brother passed away a few years ago and, though I loved him dearly, there was no denying that he struggled all his life to hold a steady job. The main reason was because he was brilliant, at least as measured by IQ tests. Now you may say how can a brilliant person really struggle when that should open many doors? The problem was that something always happened that exposed his feeling smarter than his boss, and he failed to learn how NOT to say so. Anyone could easily get fired after telling a boss that he or she is stupid, right? Classic “fight” scenario, eh?

I know. You say that you’ve learned greater self-discipline to not get fired that way. Even if you said something that was perceived to be rude, yet not bad enough to get fired, there was likely some immediate verbal or nonverbal feedback about inappropriate behavior. However, think back to times when you may NOT have said anything, even when you knew you were right, particularly if others acted forcefully in those situations. Choosing NOT to speak up about your insights and opinions is a form of “fleeing”. For those working in a friendly, supportive environment, it may not seem to be an issue, yet trying to measure the intangible career impact of “fleeing” inaction can be difficult unless there were a way to bring it to your attention.

Do you ever wish you had some tools to better understand what, why and how others are likely to act BEFORE a situation escalates to a fight vs. flight decision? That is where the online and face-to-face Consultative Skills methods I’ve designed and developed over 30+ years provide a safer, middle ground. It’s the FINESSE sitting between Fight vs. Flight options, that you can subtly apply without fanfare or disruption that may feel uncharacteristic to how you prefer to work.

In fact, that is how I work best, quietly behind the scenes, helping others look good in a respectful, discrete, confidential manner. Before you judge that as not your style, please understand it was not always mine either. I’m living proof that anyone can learn to be a subtle influencer.

For background, I’m an unassuming Canadian who grew up in the US in a functional family of two parents and two siblings. My Father was a Lutheran pastor and Mother a part-time bookkeeper, happily married since age 25. While that may sound boring, it certainly did not seem so to me. My Dad loved variety, a trait I thankfully learned to embrace and instill in our children. About every 2-6 years, my Dad would accept a different “call” (how you moved in the church). They varied from inner city to suburban, rural to international, start-up congregations to established multi-lingual institutions. He was the first US exchange pastor in Oslo because he spoke fluent Norwegian. Upon arrival, he was surprised when told that sermons were expected to be 3+ hours long. I was only 8, so I thought EVERY Dad did public speaking as their job. That helped me naturally develop the confidence to act, sing, play timpani/ percussion, and serve others as a professional consultant/ trainer/ facilitator.

I earned a Bachelor of Arts four-year Liberal Arts degree in Political Science with Urban Studies Concentration (minor) from a prestigious and rigorous school. Yet that included changing my major five times before settling on what was more popular at the time than my real passion for business. The PolySci degree included internships at government bureaucracies and with national political leaders during particularly scandalous times (when isn’t there, eh?). Disillusioned, I accepted a job with a global not-for-profit business education organization, youthfully rationalizing that I would at least be idealistically “helping people”. I quickly realized that political science knowledge applied wherever there were groups forming to influence others. I was honoured that others identified me for fast-track training, catapulting over more seasoned staff to become the organization’s youngest staff president (the title used in only the top 25 markets). In that role, I hired excellent staff, recruited and served a high-level board of directors of Fortune 500 C-Suite executives, and authored the then largest national grant from a major foundation. I learned a lot about executives, including that they put their pants on the same as anyone else and you just need to proactively anticipate their needs while wisely using their time and influence. Some of them helped me start my consulting practice when only age 30. Still, I wish someone had shown that immature me some quick and effective tools such as I’ve recently developed. My economical SituationalALERTness℠ online video training available 24/7 helps to anticipate how and why subgroups are likely to act BEFORE you might need their support or lack of resistance. My CHALLENGE execYOUtives℠online program guides you through various levels of consultative wording for respectfully and safely challenging a boss, or anyone in authority, in ways thatenhance your career.

I’ve often been asked how can I be a “consultant” without grey hair or a Ph.D.? Yes, I’ve subcontracted many with those credentials onto my teams when a client seemed initially nervous. Yet that usually only initially propped open a door. They understandably also ask, “What are you doing to help me today?” Quite frankly, I’ve proven that practical real life experience that unselfishly fosters insight and wisdom also earns trust and respect…and repeat business.

Did I test my limits along the journey? Definitely. My wife and I have started, acquired and sold numerous businesses, including multi-million dollar ones with up to 150 employees. She proved to have greater patience than I when dealing with some of our managers who did not see things that needed to be done with their direct reports, even after being told what to do. I finally realized that my trying to “tell” them what to do was the root cause of their not following through once I left the premises to visit our other locations. Why would they internalize and implement MY processes when my only consistency was to criticize and press for faster results?

Ironically, that was not the way I was simultaneously treating my consulting clients in the early years of our mainstay business. No, I consultatively coached, good humoredly challenged, and gently guided them toward committing to their own priorities. In fact, that was so successful that it led me to a major epiphany. Why not treat EVERYONE that way and no longer feel stressed about others seemingly letting ME down. Plus, consistently applying consultative behaviours with everyone meant not having to remember what was said to whom as nothing harmful would come back to bite me later.

Do Yourself a F.A.V.O.U.R.

Now, whenever I feel any negativity toward anything, I apply a simple process I call, “Do Yourself a F.A.V.O.U.R.” (Yes, it’s Canadian spelling). It stands for:
F = Feel Embrace your feelings, regardless of business style or situation
A = Acknowledge Catch yourself as early as possible when thinking negatively
V = Value Value every relationship more than any atypical incident or thought
O = Own It Don’t blame anyone else for your own reactions to any situation
U = Understand Remember you’re dealing with behaviours, not the whole person
R = Release Give yourself permission to let it go, forgive yourself, and just move on

Thinking back, those struggling managershelped me learn an important life lesson.
“Deal with people wherever they are at the moment, and help them stretch at their own pace to whatever changes they are willing to consider.”

That helped me create a safe enough space for many clients to proactively grow into true high performers. (I later became one of the founding 100 members of global High Performance Coaches, as certified by the High Performance Academy).

Most of my clients for decades have been Fortune 500 executives, managers and support roles. That has meant signing confidentiality, non-disclosure and non-compete agreements. It has also meant no internal video, pictures or written testimonials (per legal department advice about ANY outside resource) despite extensive praise and repeat business. That is often part of the trade-off when earning access to such confidential areas as intellectual property/ trade secrets, competitive/ business intelligence, strategic planning meetings, etc. When other consultants ask me how to get started, I sometimes joke, “Be careful what you wish for unless you’re willing to also accept their rules.” So why am I now sharing my insights here and via my consultativeskills.com website? I’ve learned how to teach skills to others without violating the confidence of my short and long term clients.

Act Authentically Without Airs

A colleague once introduced me to a group as “…the wisest person I know.” I quickly asked if he spelled that “wisest” or “wise-assed”? They laughed and he responded, “Now that you mention it – both”. It was a reminder not to take myself too seriously or let ego get in the way of serving others.

My professional gratification comes from seeing how others apply learning gained from my training, coaching and facilitating. Let’s explore a few actual examples. One was somewhat simple and the other more complex. Watch for subtle examples of what I call “consultative finesse”.

A coaching client once commented that she admired how her boss would be in a group meeting of direct reports and peers, and just intently listen to a discussion. Then he would add some profoundly deeper perspective that would take the group outside the narrow company point of view. Finally, he would pose the most insightfully crafted questions that would stop people in their tracks while they thought about their answers.

After teaching her how to craft consultative questions, I asked her how she thought her boss might respond if she chose to just be candid and express her desire to emulate those learned traits. Perhaps ask him what ezines and periodicals he regularly reads that might help her professionally grow and offer greater value to the team. On our next call, she excitedly reported that he responded by offering her a leadership role on an exciting new project and set up a formal mentoring process together.

It’s always refreshing to see the business rewards that can result from a little simple initiative about being more open to self-improvement and learning.

In another case, I was brought in as an independent subject matter expert by the Learning Organization (LO) division of a major company to meet with who they claimed to be a “domineering and stubborn” Sr. VP. Before agreeing to the meeting, I learned that apparently they were having difficulty convincing the executive to invest in their proposed “solution” to a problem he had approached them to fix. Based on my years of successfully conducting “consultative skills” classes within the firm, their solution included just uplifting my proven services. So I was supposedly to be at the meeting to soften up the prospect toward their “off-the-shelf” approach, even though the methods I teach are to customize solutions to best meet the client’s needs. In other words, the learning team just wanted to get rid of the request by conveniently outsourcing their solution to a proven “vendor” with the assumption that my classes would suffice. When I asked what “needs requirements” steps they had previously taken to understand the request before proposing this particular solution, I was told that they had seen the same situation so many times that they didn’t “waste this important executive’s time” by typically exploring internal client issues. I hope you see the root cause of their dilemma.

At the meeting, I quickly confirmed this prospective client’s dominant style and knew he would have greater respect if I showed that I could take charge of the meeting and steer it toward meeting HIS needs, not necessarily the learning division’s representatives. By consultatively asking some open-ended questions, we quickly identified the challenges being faced by the executive, how they were impacting accomplishing his business goals, and some preferred behavioral outcomes that might address the gaps. I thought about how obvious it was to me that by simply tweaking some of the scenarios, or even the rigorous case study I use in my class, we could accomplish dramatic improvements. However, I shocked the learning reps by saying to the client that, depending on how quickly he wanted sustainable results, there were multiple methods of accomplishing the altered behaviours that would likely achieve his business goals. These could include training, coaching, mentoring, etc. each with their own trade-offs to consider. Even though the LO’s solution would help me as the fulfillment contractor, I did this because I knew his dominant style preferred multiple options and risks/rewards factors from which to choose.

One of the LO reps immediately jumped in, thinking he would help his team and me, by pointing out that I had the highest satisfaction rankings of any of their external AND internal trainers and the client “should” select my maximum 30-person 3-day Consultative Skills classes. Appearing to feel boxed in, the client stated that he thought the best approach was to have his assistant (who was also in the conference room with us) travel to the six geographies of his division and conduct single meetings of about 150 people so as to minimize their time “away from productive work”. It was that conflict that had prompted the LO setting up this particular meeting involving me, hoping that I would simply endorse their idea of repeatedly using my services.

I saw the situation differently and chose to apply another consultative approach (for which the client later complimented me for role modeling what he really wanted his team to learn to do with external customers). After honoring the talents and good intentions of the assistant, I asked them both what might happen if a sizeable percentage of his team either did not fully understand their message, or chose not to implement it. After the client’s initial reaction about people risking their careers by ignoring his mandates, I could see him pondering the question more deeply. I then switched the emphasis to a question about the potential impact to HIM if those less-than-committed team members undermined achieving his division quarterly or annual goals. When the client acknowledged how bad that would be, I asked his assistant whether he believed “compliance” was the same as “buy-in” on their extended team. They both said no, and that opened the door to explore alternatives.

Again, rather than only pitch the LO solution of using my classes, I instead stated one way to possibly increase buy-in, even with groups of 150+ people at a time, could be to use expert “facilitation” skills in order to guide, rather than force, people to voluntarily buy in. I asked the assistant what training, if any, he had experienced in learning and practicing expert facilitation skills. He said he had none, after which a different LO rep boldly stated that to be one of Rolf’s strongest skills. While I appreciated the compliment, her timing was off. It seemed too risky to appear to be pitting my strengths as an outside expert whom the client had just met, against his already trusted assistant. I instead moved to a more face-saving approach for the assistant.

I intentionally asked a rare closed question of whether they believed people learned more and retained the learning better when they had the opportunity to personally interact with peers and promptly apply the learning to their jobs. Everyone agreed that was most desirable, provided it also met budget, time and other typical constraints. I then asked a “what if” question to help broaden perspectives about different alternatives. I asked, “What if I were to team up with the assistant, providing my consultative skills and facilitation expertise as an available supplement to the assistant’s lead and knowledge of the audience and the client’s priorities?” The signs of relief on the assistant’s face were noticeable to all, yet I didn’t stop there with the obvious compromise because I still knew the trade-offs of trying to train groups of 150+ people were unlikely to meet the desired business goals. I asked if everyone would prefer not allowing individual team members to “hide” amongst a large group and possibly ignore the message without anyone realizing it until after some quarterly goals were not met. They all agreed that was undesirable.

Their OWN REPLIES presented the opening to discuss some benefits of training in smaller conspicuous groups. While I acknowledged in a neutral way that I could use my instructional design experience to develop some educational activities for any size groupings, including 150+, I also walked them through some examples where greater levels of interaction, team-building and reinforced learning seemed to work better within smaller groups with a common vision, mission, and directly perceived benefits.

Then a few important things happened, primarily because they all seemed more comfortable by that time. The assistant asked his boss if it was OK for me (Rolf) to conduct all the training and he would supplement it, as a background resource should any technical questions arise about the company. I offered to customize some of the training exercises to use real-life situations that their team would recognize and appreciate. The client agreed to all that and also committed to trying the smaller classes at one of their sites as a test. By providing the assistant with a graceful way to choose to bow out of the training leadership role, it allowed me to then ask the client to prepare a 1-2 minute video embarking his vision and priorities that could be played during each class delivery.

As expected, that test went so well that the client committed to my conducting numerous other classes all over the globe, and the assistant told his boss that it was no longer necessary to tag along as I had demonstrated to their teams that I understood them well. The desired business results were also accomplished faster than expected as the learning was quickly applied within their roles.

There were also some other longer-term benefits. The LO reps said they learned a lot about how to deal better with other executives in the future, and kept renewing my contracts. The client also engaged me as his personal High Performance Coach. We’re currently exploring how best to engage some of my fellow Certified High Performance Coaches for group coaching his teams across the globe.

Apply Good Judgment Without Appearing Judgmental

Unlike the examples above, many times I’m brought in to help facilitate a process as a neutral party with no connection to any outcomes. For example, a large client desired a systematic internal process to conduct market intelligence research that could also help external customers. Working with my now-retired associate, Mike Kirkwood, we effectively facilitated a roll-up-your-sleeves workshop with internal stakeholders that produced a succinct process generating broad-based buy-in. Besides Mike having been a founding member of the International Association of Facilitators, the main reason we were brought in was because we had been teaching our own proprietary consultative skills model for years. Now, we certainly could have allowed that to skew our input yet understood how crucial it was to separate our judgment from what would have likely been construed as appearing “judgmental” if we had crossed that line. What are some ways where you might add greater value to a team or project by maintaining that balance between advocating your own judgment vs. appearing to be judgmental to others?

How might that distinction make a difference, you ask? After facilitating many groups experiencing all kinds of dynamics, I was honoured by a US$400 million training services firm as their top Facilitation Partner of the Year, the same year they earned the prestigious Malcolm Baldrige service award. I was later honoured by my peers and the global board to be one of two co-chairs of the 2015 Americas Conference of the International Association of Facilitators. More significantly for you, what situations are you or a team facing where a neutral professional facilitator may assist toward your creating a desired breakthrough? How might it be helpful for YOU to learn and apply consultative “finesse” in any and every work (or family) situation?

Whether you currently manage people or teams, and/or are subtly working your way up within any business culture, I invite you to contact me at info@optimire.com and visit www.consultativeskills.com for a complimentary video series and downloadable “Team Ethics Analysis Model” ebook. I have a ten-year business visa to work in India as well as regularly conduct long distance coaching and consulting engagements in many time zones. Let’s explore your needs together.

Rolf M. Foster-Jorgensen
President Optimire Consulting and Training, Inc.
Canmore AB Canada
info@optimire.com www.consultativeskills.com

Learn from Rolf’s 30+ years as a global lead consultant, trainer, facilitator and Certified High Performance Coach to Fortune 500 clients and entrepreneurial teams.

• Rolf was awarded as the top “Facilitation Partner of the Year” by a US$400 million Malcolm Baldrige service award winner.
• He served as 2015 Co-Chair of the International Association of Facilitators Americas Conference.
• Rolf is an inaugural member of global Certified High Performance Coaches, and personally invited on stage twice by the High Performance Academy founder to share coaching tips based on his extensive experience and insights.
• Rolf provides interactive e-learning, rigorous case studies and participatory classroom instructional design services, and Train-The-Trainer (T3) events.
• He is creator and master facilitator of Consultative Skills, and co-creator of Internal Consultative Skills with marketing and communications emphasis.
• He authored Team Ethics Analysis Model ebook, and created the Business Empathy Tool, SituationalALERTness℠ and Challenge ExecYOUtive℠ products/services for all audiences.
• Rolf has also designed, developed, and delivered courses in consultative project planning, project management, market management, complex solutions selling, customer service, facilitation skills, leadership coaching and hardware/software planning.
• He and his wife owned multi-million dollar businesses with 150+ employees.
• Rolf ‘s hobbies include playing timpani and Latin percussion in various bands and orchestras as time permits.

Clients include: Clients include: IBM, Cisco, General Motors, the International United Auto Workers Union, Chrysler, Ford-Volvo, BP/Amoco Oil, Navistar/International Truck & Engine/Monaco Coach, Hewlett-Packard, Yamaha, Abbott Labs, American Airlines/US Airways, Nissan-Infiniti, Motorola, Agilysys, Fluor, Pfizer, small businesses, state/municipal government, not-for-profits, Native Indigenous tribe.

Watch for early release notices about Rolf’s upcoming Risk-Giving℠ book. It presents a different business operations model that greatly honours employees at every level, while encouraging high performance behaviours by all. People managers and team leaders, of any title, will particularly appreciate how collaboratively rewarding their roles can be in a Risk-Giving℠ environment.

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ROLF FOSTER-JORGENSEN

GLOBAL CONSULTING EXPERT, AWARD-EARNING FACILITATOR VIA CONSULTATIVESKILLS.COM


Tired of doing tedious tasks on unrealistic work projects where no one listens to your creative ideas? I solve this. I help you earn earlier access to project planning stages because my special coaching, training and facilitation transform how others perceive your influence and value. For you or your team to earn the respect you deserve at work, go to ConsultativeSkills.com