In consulting you really have only one thing: the ability to identify problems. Sure, you may be a UI rockstar or have some mad statistics skills, and perhaps thats why you think your clients call you. Without being able to tease out the real problem, however you will likely not satisfy your clients demands for answers to their technology, management or structural problem. Worse, you will not be able to further support thier actual needs into the future.

Now, granted there are different kinds of consultants. There are those who have a packaged solution for your problem area. In this case the consultant is more of a salesperson and they will scuplt, shoe-horn or foist a prebuilt “solution” on their clients. In reality those people don’t need to listen, except to echo the buzzwords they heard their prospective client say. On the onther end of the spectrum, there are also those people who are only selling their ability to undertake a specific task, a bonefide hired gun. If you fall into this catagory then listening is what you do. That is because listening will help you understand the propsective client problem, it will allow for a useful dialog to start between the client problem and your experience, that dialog will form the basis for a verbal solution and it is likley to help make your sale. As a consultant, listening defines your product, whatever it is.

Sparkgeo is a niche geospatial technology company. Before we talk about technology we have learned to listen to what our clients’ problems really are. We don’t build a sustainable relationship by quickly selling a bandaid product. However, we do build relationships if we provide real, considered advice based on actual observations discerned from a combination of empathic listening and our own real experiences. I know this works, because we have never not had repeat business from our clients.

A wise old owl lived in an oak
The more he saw the less he spoke
The less he spoke the more he heard.
Why can't we all be like that wise old bird

Empathy is an actual differentiator. Understanding the pain an analyst feels when confronted with ‘bad’ data, or that a manager feels when provided with a poorly specified (or just wrong) product provides a common plain of emotion. This common expeience separates consulting sales people from those who genuinely want to help solve a problem. Empathy is the place where your expertise and your listening comine to greater than the sum of their parts.

Empathy is not easily learned, but taking the time to actually listen to your client / boss / workmate / child is a huge step towards it.

Don’t guess, or pre-empt, just listen.

Its that simple.

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