Disagree with your prospective client..

Do you look for a reason to disagree with your prospective client?

One primary goal in a first meeting with a prospective client is to create a connection. I want them to think of me as someone they’d like to know. Being irascible and contentious is not the way to get there. Ultimately, it’s only through harmony that one can invite any change.

Having said that, let’s explore the benefits of disagreement:

1. People up in the hierarchy in an organization are plagued with people who tell them what they want to hear. Your willingness to disagree establishes you as a third party who offers objective insight, and is therefor useful.

2. It’s a status equalizer. In improvisational theater, there is a premise that every interaction has a status component to it. Personality, custom and culture impact whether we choose to take the higher status or lower status role. Usually when you enter a client’s office for the first time, you take the lower status role. Over time a healthy ongoing client relationship will approach status neutrality. For example, when you become an adviser who’s trusted, you will be cast some of the time in the high status role. Challenging your client’s premise; actively disagreeing, is a status equalizing behavior.

A disagreement doesn’t have to be abrupt. Simply re-framing a situation can be a useful yet respectful and subtle disagreement. For example you might say,

“The political challenges you are facing in the South American market: If you can overcome those, it seems that might open a number of new avenues to pursue. How else might that challenge, if solved, benefit your organization?”

Whether you make a strong declaration of disagreement, or a more subtle one like the example, depends on the situation. But in the end, if you do think differently than your client on a relevant issue, you are doing both your client and yourself a dis-service not to offer your point of view.

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4 Responses to “Disagree with your prospective client..”

  1. Gregg Fraley says:

    The other thought I have about disagreement is that you can always say — if I were you I’m sure I’d be thinking that way.

    This is an acknowledgement of their circumstances and of what they said, you don’t want to invalidate a person, even if you disagree.

    This makes anything you say afterwards of a different viewpoint less offensive.

  2. Jonathan V says:

    I completely disagree!! :-) On second thought, I completely agree. The need to be liked frequently gets in the way of saying what needs to be said. I have colleagues who, when asked for their opinion on something, always say it “looks great.” That’s not helpful! I’m looking for new thinking, fresh ideas, unique perspectives. I may not always agree with them, but they’re always instructive. To paraphrase someone famous (whom I don’t recall), “if everyone thinks alike, then only one person is thinking!”

  3. Franca Leeson says:

    You could quote my friend Ann Sedgwick: “I’d agree with you, but then we’d both be wrong!” :-D

    (Yeah and then we’d both be out of a job.)

    Great blog, Tim, somehow I’ve missed it up to now. I’m looking forward to following you.

  4. Tim says:

    I shall use that one!

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