Mutterings of a consultant

August 28, 2008

We vs. You

Filed under: General rambling — grantfrear @ 4:16 am

If one considers that consultants typically exist outside an organisation and provide services to an organisation then how consultants use the words ‘we’ and ‘you’ can pose somewhat of a dilemma.  Here are some of the issues as I see it.

‘You’ can give the impression that the consultant is lacking empathy or perhaps ownership of the client’s problem/issue, ‘we’ on the other hand can be presumptious, compare the following:

‘This is the situation you are in’ vs ‘this is the situation we are in’. 

The first clearly positions the situation as the clients own, it can however distance the consultant from the situation as the consultant is not putting themselves in the group that the owns the problem.  On the other hand the second statement, based on we, also presents some problems.  Has the consultant earned the right to put themselves in the group or are they simply assuming membership.  This is troubling indeed as the consultant-client relationship can be upset by either too much familiarity (percieved inappropriate use of the word we) or through detachment (consistent use of the word you).

While clearly this is a trivial post I often see consultants struggling with this and at times making mistakes.  Here is how I navigate my way through this:

1.  What is the situation, am I really part of the group or am I really an outsider?

2.  Have I earned the right to say we?  Have I demonstrated my commitment to the client and have I been invited into the group (how one knows whether or not one is ‘inside’ is even more confusing)?

3.  If in doubt (as I often am) use you, do it with empathy and we should have our bases covered.

(please note joke in the last bullet point for those of you who are slow :-))


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