Negotiate your role as advisor

By — on / Business Negotiations

Whether you spend most or just a fraction of your workday advising others, it pays to reconsider how you approach your advisees, writes Tufts University professor Jeswald W. Salacuse in his book The Wise Advisor: What Every Professional Should Know About Consulting and Counseling (Praeger, 2000). When advisors and their clients clash over expectations and assignments, the results can be frustrating for everyone. By negotiating your role with your client up front, suggests Salacuse, you can lay the foundation for a productive relationship.

A potential advisor’s first interview with a potential client offers an important opportunity to assess whether and how you can help. In The Wise Advisor, Salacuse offers a number of rules for client interviews, four of which we summarize here:

1. Let them get to know you. Doctors, lawyers, and other professionals often err in assuming that the diplomas on their walls tell the client everything she needs to know. To build trust, be sure to give potential clients plenty of information about your background and experience.

2. Encourage them to tell their stories. If you pepper a client with leading questions, you may not get to the heart of the matter. Instead, let her tell you in her own words how she got to this point and why she needs your help.

3. Don’t talk too soon. Avoid the common temptation to prove your value by offering advice before you know the client or the problem fully. When you lack necessary information, you risk giving bad advice.

4. Avoid judgment. Resist the urge to form opinions about what you’re hearing. If the client senses that you’re judging her, she’ll probably become defensive and guarded. To gain trust and cooperation, strive for open-minded understanding.

Adapted from “Negotiating to Give Good Advice,” first publish in the Negotiation newsletter, January 2011.

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