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Consider reality talent show contestants for a moment. Many have modest talent (at best) and are, nevertheless, shocked when they fail out of the competition.

They exhibit what appears to be an inexplicable overestimation of their own talents. You and your consulting firm occasionally suffer from the same lack of awareness in a particular area that is absolutely critical to winning (and successfully completing) projects:


Effective listening is like consulting pheromones—rendering you irresistibly attractive to prospective clients.

Listening reassures prospects on all three points of the Trust Triangle. It demonstrates you’re paying attention to your prospect’s needs, you won’t hurt them (by ignoring them) and you’re likely to help them.

And, of course, listening allows your consulting firm to conduct effective discovery, which is how your consulting firm becomes the obvious choice on a consulting project.

Yet, despite a lifetime of practice and heightened awareness of its importance, you employ listening imperfectly and inconsistently.

For good reason.

Listening requires active use of attention and short-term memory, both of which face low, cognitive limits. Your brain prioritizes urgent, dangerous, personal and unresolved issues, and deprioritizes nice-to-know information.

Hence, if an unsettled question preoccupies you (“I can’t believe Sheila ate my cocoa-dusted pomegranate seeds again. Should I mention something to her?”) then it’s nigh on impossible to listen to the non-threatening, unremarkable prospective consulting client in front of you.

How can you ensure you’re paying attention to the important person in front of you rather than internal issues?

By recognizing signals that you’re not listening.

My team and I assembled a handful of signals that you’re not listening or, at least, you’re not demonstrating to your consulting prospect that you’re listening.

If you notice any of the signs below, your consulting firm is at unnecessary risk of losing the project. Bring your attention back to the client.

You interrupt your prospect repeatedly.

Your prospect repeats something s/he said earlier.

Your prospect grows frustrated during your conversation.

Your prospect answers the wrong question twice. (When a consulting prospect doesn’t understand your query twice in a row, you’re not connecting with them well enough.)

After you restate what you heard the client say, they respond with something like, “No” or “Not exactly,” or “Yes, but…” rather than “Yes, that captures it exactly.”

Your prospect is reluctant to share the information you need. (This is more often a listening problem on your part than a recalcitrance problem on their part.)

Your prospect appears to contradict themselves when you reframe their statements.

Your prospect becomes apathetic or disengaged.

You’re imagining what you’ll do or say after your conversation with the prospect is over.