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New Article on “Integrity Impugned”

post # 384 — June 7, 2007 — a Careers, Client Relations post

Because of prior poor experiences — or the generally bad caricatures that exist about many professions — clients are often suspicious (at least initially) of the motives of their service providers.

Just think of the many jokes about consultants who act as if they are more concerned about looking for the next follow-on assignment to cross-sell than doing the current one well; lawyers who are suspected of running up the billable hours because they are paid by the hour; and advertising agency people who are more concerned with winning prizes than selling the client’s product or service.

Whatever your profession, you need to be prepared for the fact that, at the beginning of every new relationship, you must avoid confirming other people’s (inevitable) starting suspicions about your motives, and must actively work to demonstrate that you are, in fact, unlike the providers that the client may have experienced before.

These are the opening paragraphs of a new article of mine called Integrity Impugned. The article is based on my seminars and an extensive blog discussion we held here almost a year ago.


Susie Wee said:

Hi David,

I was not yet following your blog when you made the original post, so I am seeing this for the first time- Great topic!

In regard to your “incident” of the seemingly insulting comment by the client’s suspicious CEO, perhaps we could take another perspective. I am a believer that any feedback is good feedback, even if it hurts, so the fact that he openly expressed his deepest concern is actually a huge favor to you. Imagine if the CEO suppressed his deepest concern, and instead tried to kill the company’s relationship with you behind the scenes after the meeting. You would have no chance at addressing the concern or the concerned person and you would have no chance at resurrecting the situation. So, by openly stating his concern, the CEO is actually doing you a favor (regardless of whether he knows it!) by giving you a chance to address it. The worst thing you could do is shut him down. The best thing you can do is encourage him to keep expressing his concerns over the course of your relationship so you can deal with them as they arise.

So, if you did somehow manage to keep your cool (easier said than done!), perhaps you could try to respond in a way that lets the CEO and the others know that you value the feedback and encourage this open style of dialogue. The approaches that you suggest in the article do just that. You could take the approach of genuinely listening and trying to understand the CEO’s real underlying concern. You could let them know that you think it’s critical to understand the concerns of the organization so you can build them into the proposed solution. You could let them know that you will consider all suggestions and comments, e.g., in this case, you could consider “keeping status quo” as one possible outcome of the analysis.

As for managing perception, the other people in the room definitely heard the CEO make the aggressive comment. Since they work with him regularly, they will have a good context for his comment and they will know that he probably does this all the time. So, they will probably respect you for trying to understand the root cause of the comment rather than taking it personally, ignoring it, or going for a counter-attack!

Again, I know this is easier said than done because it really does hurt to have your integrity questioned, especially if you are a principle-type person (which I think you and I are). Well, I guess I’ll have to see if I keep my cool and follow through on this the next time it happens to me!

Thanks for turning your original post and discussion into another great article!


posted on June 7, 2007

David Faye said:

David – Great column. This happens pretty frequently to us in the world of IT consulting. Almost every recommendation we make has the potential to be perceived as self-serving. Practically everyone in our industry has been burned by (at best) an incompetent consultant or (at worst) an unscrupulous or unethical one. If you have long term relationships with clients who are still saying things like this, then you have bigger problems. However, I would be shocked if any new client didn’t have at least a little trepedation at beginning a relationship with a new consultant. I fully expect new clients to be somewhat suspicious about our motives. Some of them are polite enough to not voice them. Others are like the guy in your story. Consequently, my experience with people who actually come out and say things like this is that most of the time they’re doing it as a test to see how you react. What this means is that it doesn’t matter so much WHAT you say, but it matters more HOW you say it. I’m pretty certain there isn’t just one way to address this…it comes down to personal style more than anything else. My personal approach is to diffuse the comment or situation with humor. If a client says something like “you’re only recommending that so you can sell us more stuff…”, I may respond in agreement: “You’re right…that’s pretty much the cornerstone of our success” and raise an eyebrow or chuckle. If they laugh with me, then I know it was just a test and we all move on. If they don’t laugh, then I may follow it up with a probing question about their comment or the situation. If they don’t laugh, then I know I have a tougher client on my hands and will have to work harder at earning their trust.

What a great, provocative subject you’ve raised yet again…. Thanks.


posted on June 8, 2007

Tom Metz said:

Hi David. I enjoyed your article and agree with the content. This article brings back old memories. In the early days of my career, I was challenged by the head of operations at a bank when he said after the 4th page of my presentation; “you’re a F*&^%$# liar Metz! It was just he and I in the room. I was “shell shocked” when he said it. All I could think to do was say; “there must have been a miscommunication error on my part as I do not lie, let’s go back to the point that caused the issue and discuss it” As it later turned out, he did this to every new person he met in these situations, just to see how they would react. Later in life I learned about DISC personality profiling. This banker was a classic pure D personality. One of their key attributes is that they do not want to be taken advantage of. Had I known about DISC then, I would have done my homework better to gather information from other sources on his personality type, as I now do, before meeting him. This way, if I can ascertain the personality type of they key people in the presentation, I know what to expect and also how to deal with the person, once they start to interact on a positive or negative basis. Tom

posted on June 8, 2007

Daphne Castillo said:

Dear David,

Your story must be a deja vu for most consultants!

I think a number of things may have a role on a situation like this.

Some people, specially those higher up in the corporate ladder, may feel uncomfortable with the fact that somebody else has had to come to their company and do what they feel is “showing them how to do things right” or “showing them how to run their company”. Many may think its a sign of weakness or incompetence and thus feel the need to make remarks like the one made by the CEO of the company you were working with.

Sometimes, a manager may have been forced (or may have felt forced) to hire a consultant, not because it is really necessary to produce business strategies or else, but because he/she was unable to convey a credible message. It has happened to me a couple of times that managers who hired me for this reason then tried to downplay or even sabotage my work — professional insecurity at its best, we are only human.

There’s no easy way to predict this kind of behaviour, prevention is key. As a customary practice I now include a couple of slides in my presentations where I clarify what can be expected from the consulting engagement (results wise, fee wise, time wise, etc.)

Over time, I have developed better skills at answering to remarks like the one you mention in your story. I am not quite sure its better to say nothing, there is this saying in my country, “el que calla otorga”, which basically means that your silence can confirm what the other person is affirming.

Sometimes, just turning around and saying “excuse me?” in the appropriate tone will be enough.

Sometimes, replies need to be a bit more elaborate. I have had a variety of remarks about my fees, and I always -non chalantly, seriously and calmly- reply something along the lines of: “…and you are worth every penny of it” or “if you think I’m making money, wait until you see your ROI after we finish this project”. The result is people will grin and relax, it acts as an ice breaker and it can even be motivational.

Once, I was working on a educational marketing project and had to present my proposal to the school’s board. This was one of my first gigs in the educational field and during the presentation one of the board members said: “we need an expert, you are not an expert” and I just replied, “You will probably find educational marketing experts, but they are not experts in your school’s particular market issues. By the time I finish the market research, I will be an expert in your school , but more importantly, I will make sure you are experts on your school’s market.” I got the job right away.

One other time, I was presenting a few ideas for a marketing campaing and someone said “anyone could come up with those ideas”…I just smiled and said “luckily, this time anyone turned out to be us ”. Since I included them in the achievement, they felt part of the winning situation, while I was perceived as a partner, rather than a know-all intruder.

However, the above replies worked because a rapid analisys of the context was made. If I made this comments in an inadequate context, I might have been fired. I think most of the time we can get a feeling of who we are dealing with that allows us to assess what kind of response, if any, is appropriate.

Maybe what makes a response appropriate is the demeanor we show. If we are perceived as calm and confident, as opposed to cocky and defensive, things usually work well.

I guess the trick is building bridges with the stones that are being thrown at ua. It takes practice, it might not always work, but at least it will make you feel better about the whole situation.



posted on June 9, 2007

Ian Scott said:


Ian Scott said

Ref “New Article” 2007

I’d suggest it’s folly to respond with a statement to a statement, particularly one that might impugn your credibility.If such comments remain unaddressed they have the potency to damage and disrupt the good work you’re trying to achieve.

I’m of the belief that seizing control by asking questions and doing so immediately, thus gaining control over the disruptive sender is the solution. Simply do not allow them to get away with scurrilous comments!

  1. First accept what has been said – ” Oh really?” then question – “How?”
  2. Then provide succour – ” I understand”.
  3. Restate accurately the answer to Q1 but reframed . “So does that mean… you have had bad experiences with consultants in the past or that you are simply suspicious of consultants?”
  4. Check your restatment – “Would that be correct?” if this is not correct simply ask Q1 again and proceed until the answer is “Yes” to Q4

Propose an assumptive solution – ” So can I assume that if you had not had these bad experiences you’d have no issues with me or my company?” and force a response ” Is that correct?”

Now is the time to make a statement – “Plainly I have no connection with your past bad experiences, my own eminent record of client satisfaction is self evident”

Final Questions 1 & 2 - (1) ” So on that basis could we continue?” (2) ” Well if there are no further issues I’ll move on”

If the sender continues after this, they’ll just be looking for trouble or have a real issue with you – maybe its then time to recheck the appointments book!


posted on June 9, 2007

daniel said:

David, The scenario you shared (“Integrity Impugned”) in which you are directly challenged by a

client would give any consultant pause, or worse. If one is not prepared for such moments

and challenges the relationship could well be ruined.

The best consultants I’ve seen are highly professional, very intelligent folks who can

quickly think on their feet. A direct assertion of suspicion or lack of confidence in

either you or your firm from a client should be, I think, responded to confidently yet


A moment like the one described in your article is likely the key moment in the

client/consultant relationship. The consultant’s response and how it plays with the others

in the room, and the accuser him/herself will likely determine the course of your

engagement or its rapid conclusion. Your stoic silence may have been interpretted by the

audience as a courtesy on your part to “fall on your sword” so-to-speak thus preventing a

possibly unpleasant and discomforting confrontation from playing out before them. The

accuser may have been bullying you and not truly interested in any reply you might give.

The only way to truly know is to later poll the group and that is not a reasonable or

attractive option.

Potentially disastrous moments such as these should be flipped on their heads and turned

into a demonstration of your patience, professionalism, and erudition. Aggressive folks

like the one in your story, especially people who are overly aware of their authority, and

perhaps see the consultant as a direct challenge to their reputations can be derailed, and

even impressed by a direct, but gentle counter to a challenge or direct/implied insult.

When you reply in such a situation in which others are watching, lock your eyes on those of

your accuser and pretend that you are alone in the room. Eye contact is critical as it

shows that you are not withdrawing, and that you are open for an honest exchange.

  • First, directly respond:

    I am sorry you feel that way.

  • Second, address the issue, make it real:

    Is there something in particular that I have done to give you cause for concern or doubt? If so, I will be happy to address any concern that you may have.

  • Third, suggest a misunderstanding:

    If there has been any misunderstading or miscommunication on my part I am sorry. (Apologizing will take the “heat” off you and put it back on the challenger.)

  • Fourth, give a mission statement pertinent to the issue at hand: I am delighted to be here and am looking forward to working with everyone to find solutions and improvements.
  • Fifth, conclude with the absolute truth, and end positively: I don’t want your job, I’m really here to help.

As before this is the critical moment in the relationship. Handle it well, and you’ve won the respect of everyone in the room. Your accuser may not be convinced, but usually they will be. If they are not, it is still a victory as your panache, self-confidence, professionalism, and honesty will build you a reputation of someone who can be trusted.

Creating trust in those who are not by nature trusting, or those who resent your involvement in their projects or business is crucial. These kinds of challenge “tests” are much more common for consultants than they are for employees. So…

As the Boy Scouts say, “Be Prepared.”

Thank you for your excellent blog and for giving me the opportunity to add my voice to it.



posted on December 13, 2007