How Do You Facilitate Difficult Conversations in Consulting Projects?


    How Do You Facilitate Difficult Conversations in Consulting Projects?

    Consulting projects often require the deft handling of challenging discussions, and we've gathered insights from seasoned consultants to illuminate this process. From navigating stakeholder conflict with focused meetings to bridging departmental differences with collaboration, here are seven strategies shared by Change Management Consultants and Senior Business Consultants on facilitating difficult conversations.

    • Navigate Stakeholder Conflict with Focused Meetings
    • Embrace Honesty in Executive Conversations
    • Balance Empathy with Data-Driven Solutions
    • Acknowledge Diverse Viewpoints for Middle Ground
    • Align Teams with Workshops and Market Research
    • Facilitate Open Dialogue in Organizational Restructuring
    • Bridge Departmental Differences with Collaborative Meetings

    Navigate Stakeholder Conflict with Focused Meetings

    Facilitating difficult conversations between multiple stakeholders is inevitable in consulting projects. I encountered one such situation where a client had hired three firms without proper upfront planning, leading to a major conflict between our digital transformation efforts and another firm's infrastructure updates, which were incompatible.

    In high-stakes scenarios like this, my approach is to quickly gather a comprehensive understanding before acting. I conducted discovery sessions to get to the root cause—our integration needs were not accounted for in the new infrastructure.

    Armed with this high-level understanding, I organized a focused meeting with key client and firm decision-makers. Sharing the issue objectively, I facilitated constructive dialogue toward a collaborative solution, acknowledging priorities across the board.

    Keeping the meeting lean with around six decision-makers allowed productive discussions and enabled commitments. Throughout, I positioned myself as an impartial facilitator working for the client's best interests.

    This method has proven successful:

    - Learn quickly from impacted parties

    - Act swiftly with a high-level grasp to initiate dialogue

    - Enable collaborative decision-making with key stakeholders

    Demonstrating commitment to clients' goals from the start builds trust and credibility. This goodwill adds weight to recommendations during conflicts, increasing the likelihood of resolution.

    Lindsey Macneil
    Lindsey MacneilChange Management Consultant

    Embrace Honesty in Executive Conversations

    The best way to facilitate the difficult conversation is to tell the truth. Find where it's uncomfortable and get comfortable. Often, the owners and executives I work with are sheltered by the 'yes' people they have surrounded themselves with, and hearing a very direct and honest response that they may not want to hear is the unexpected catalyst for facilitating movement in a difficult conversation.

    Challen Waychoff Iii
    Challen Waychoff IiiSenior Business Consultant, International Services Inc

    Balance Empathy with Data-Driven Solutions

    Navigating difficult conversations is an art form that I have refined over my years as a co-founder of Rockerbox Tax Solutions, especially when dealing with the intricacies of financial management and tax law. A notable instance occurred when a new client, a small business owner, was overwhelmed by the prospect of a comprehensive overhaul of their financial systems, fearing it could interrupt their operations significantly. The conversation required a delicate balance between empathizing with their concerns and illustrating the long-term benefits of our approach.

    Drawing upon my expertise, I presented a phased integration plan that allowed us to implement our solutions without disrupting the client's daily operations. This approach was backed by concrete data demonstrating the efficiency gains and cost savings from similar projects we've undertaken. To further ease their concerns, I shared testimonials from past clients whose businesses flourished after adopting our comprehensive financial management solutions. The visibility of tangible benefits, alongside a clear plan that respected their operational continuity, helped transform the client's apprehension into enthusiasm for the project.

    The key takeaway from this experience was the importance of active listening and tailored communication. Understanding the client's perspective allowed me to address their specific fears and offer a solution that aligned with their immediate and long-term goals. This instance underscored the value of leveraging concrete data and real-life success stories to facilitate difficult conversations, ensuring that clients feel understood, valued, and confident in the path forward.

    Philip Wentworth, Jr
    Philip Wentworth, JrCo-Founder and CEO, Rockerbox Tax Solutions

    Acknowledge Diverse Viewpoints for Middle Ground

    Acknowledging other viewpoints is crucial—which is often the first step toward finding a middle ground.

    David Rubie-Todd
    David Rubie-ToddCo-Founder & Marketing Director, Glide

    Align Teams with Workshops and Market Research

    In my consulting work, particularly with startups and enterprise clients focusing on D2C marketing and cloud communications strategies, I've often been the bridge between technology teams and business stakeholders. One memorable instance was during the launch of a SaaS product designed for an e-commerce platform. The product team was enthusiastic about the technical capabilities and innovation, but the sales and marketing team were concerned about its market fit and how it would be received by users.

    Utilizing my knowledge from launching successful SaaS products, I spearheaded a series of workshops aimed at aligning both teams toward a common goal. These sessions involved presenting market research data that highlighted consumer trends and preferences, along with showcasing similar successful product launches from within the industry. I shared insights into how the product could meet an unaddressed need in the market, making use of personas and scenarios that bridged the gap between technical features and consumer benefits.

    To make the conversations productive, I emphasized the 'implement > analyze > adjust > repeat' approach, proposing a phased rollout plan that would allow for real-time feedback and adjustments. This strategy encouraged both teams to view the situation from a new perspective, recognizing the value of iteration and learning in product development. Through these discussions, we were able to develop a go-to-market strategy that leveraged the strengths of both teams, resulting in a product launch that surpassed initial revenue forecasts. This experience reinforced the importance of facilitating dialogue that focuses on shared outcomes and leveraging each team's unique strengths toward a common objective.

    Gary Gilkison
    Gary GilkisonPrincipal Analyst, Riverbase Cloud

    Facilitate Open Dialogue in Organizational Restructuring

    In a consulting project focused on organizational restructuring for a client, there came a point where it was necessary to facilitate a difficult conversation between the company's senior management team and the department heads affected by the proposed changes. The restructuring plan included recommendations for significant shifts in departmental roles, potential downsizing, and the reallocation of resources, which understandably caused tension and resistance among department heads concerned about the implications for their teams and personal careers.

    To navigate this challenging situation, the first step I took was to ensure thorough preparation before the meeting. This involved gathering all relevant data and feedback to present a clear rationale for the restructuring proposals, anticipating the concerns of both parties, and preparing to address them constructively.

    During the meeting, I emphasized the importance of open, honest communication and mutual respect. I began by outlining the objectives of the restructuring, backed by data and the strategic considerations driving the recommendations. Acknowledging the concerns of department heads, I facilitated a structured dialogue that allowed them to express their fears and reservations openly.

    To bridge the gap between the two parties, I employed active listening techniques, summarizing points of agreement and disagreement, and guiding the conversation toward collaborative problem-solving. Rather than allowing the discussion to dwell on potential losses, I steered the focus towards shared goals and the opportunities for growth and improvement the restructuring could bring.

    A crucial aspect of this facilitation was maintaining neutrality and empathy, ensuring both sides felt heard and understood. By the conversation's end, while not all disagreements were resolved, there was a clearer understanding of the restructuring's rationale and a commitment to continue the dialogue through smaller working groups focused on specific concerns.

    Michael Dion
    Michael DionChief Finance Nerd, F9 Finance

    Bridge Departmental Differences with Collaborative Meetings

    During a project to improve conversion rates for a well-known e-commerce client, we hit a snag due to the marketing and IT departments having different views. The marketing team wanted quick updates to the site based on what customers were saying and what the data showed, while the IT folks were worried about how doable these changes were and the risks involved. As the person leading the project, I had to come in and help both sides understand each other.

    I set up several meetings where everyone could share their concerns and suggest how we might solve them. It was very important to me to make sure both teams felt heard and to help them remember that we all wanted the same thing: to make the customer experience better and increase conversion rates.

    The turning point was when we all agreed to start with small changes that we could test and get feedback on. This made the IT team feel better about the risks and allowed the marketing team to start seeing the benefits of their ideas in action. The project was a success because we all worked together, listened to each other, and kept our focus on what was best for our client.

    Valentin Radu
    Valentin RaduCEO & Founder, Blogger, Speaker, Podcaster, Omniconvert