An associate and friend recently forwarded us a “Management Tip of the Day” from the Institute of Management Consultants.  It contains advice to ensure that client and consultant are on the same page by finding out “what is going on inside (clients’) heads.”

The given recommendation is cloaked in manipulative techniques. It suggests consultants ask themselves questions such as:

  • “What do I want (clients) to think or feel as a result of this upcoming issue or event?”

  • “Am I trying to get them to change the way they think or feel about something?”

  • “Will my approach leave them in the desired thinking and feeling frame of mind?”


And my personal favorite:

  • “Is where their head is right now conducive to my shor-t or longer-term objectives and is this the right time to inform them of a specific fact or recommend a specific course of action?" [emphasis mine]


The email also recommends that consultants form a habit of asking themselves questions like these so they don’t get stuck presenting “just the facts” and forget they are trying to influence their audience.

Influence is the most important tool consultants have, but how they use it is important. The advice from IMC, however well-intended, almost to a word conforms to the definition of “manipulation” we use in our book: At attempt to get someone to think or feel or behave in a certain way without revealing that you are trying to do so. This goes on so frequently in our culture that we often don't even see the manipulation at work.

People choose how they think, feel and act – those things are outside another’s control. You can’t make me feel bad or good, happy or angry -- unless I let you. If you shape my point of view, it’s because I have allowed you to do it. If you get the response you’re looking for from me, it’s because I made a choice to do things your way. 

Our advice on how to find out what is going on inside a client’s head? Ask them directly. An authentic conversation is a more honest and effective way to get the information your looking for.

“We’ve agreed on the activities we’re going to pursue, and I think we both understand what remains to be done. But I’d like to get clarity about your thinking as we work together. What feelings do you have about what is happening?”

If you want to influence someone else, being direct about your intentions is also far more honest – and powerful.

“I have some strong feelings about our work, and I’d like for us to be on the same page here. I think I can build a pretty good case to help influence you to see things the way I do. Are you willing to have that conversation with me?”

The caveat, of course, is to remember you've invited your client to a conversation, which means that listening is as important as delivering your message.

A direct approach might not take you directly inside the client's head, but neither does manipulation. And a direct approach will at least allow you to build a relationship that everyone can believe in.