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Wise, Foolish or Evil: Who Are You Consulting To?

mindset mastery May 16, 2017

"But what a fool believes he sees
No wise man has the power to reason away"  (Kenny Loggins/Michael McDonald)

Not everyone you consult to is the same and therefore you cannot use the same strategies to support their resistance to change.

According to author, psychologist and business advisor, Henry Cloud there really are three kinds of people: wise, foolish and evil. While we all have these characteristics and behaviors at times, our consistent behavior choices make one of these categories more predominant. 

Understanding these categories is essential for our consulting success because if we going to stay effective, healthy and sane, we have to accept this reality. And not only that, we have to learn to customize our consulting in order to match the type of character our client's authentically possesses. 

The easiest way to discern what type of character your client possesses is to watch to what they do when they are presented with difficult feedback or hard reality. How they handle truth is the key to determining if they are:


Wise people are the clients we all wish we had and whom we can do our best work with. These are the type of people who welcome truth and adjust to it. They want to improve and get better and they will take in your assessment results and recommendations with gladness and take action

Sure they may have legitimate objections at times to your pricing, how you framed your options and your recommended path to growth. But determining how to handle these objections is easy - you answer them. You listen to what they have to say and come up with a win-win solution that takes into account their subject matter expertise AND your process expertise. Their heart wants to respond and so you simply support them in the best path. 


By far the most tricky are the foolish people. Foolish people will hear truth or difficult feedback and want to adjust the truth (vs. adjusting themselves.) I can tell you numerous stories of dealing with the fool. For example first external consulting client was a City Manager who hired me to interview his direct reports on his leadership style. And when presented with a report on the results, he handed it back to me with edits (even edits to the direct quotes from his employees) and told me that until I made my report more positive, he wasn't going to pay my invoice.

The thing that is so confusing about fools is that they talented and gifted. They know their stuff and can be highly effective...at times. But man, try to share with them hard truth and you fall into an alternative reality as they use all sorts of resistance techniques such as deflection, blame, minimization, questioning you and your credentials and so on. 

If you are like me, you might go into double duty to share the validity of your challenging news and the logic of your recommendations, but it is not going to work. The only thing that will work is limits, consequences and choice

 So, do this instead:

  • Make sure that you are presenting specific, actionable feedback. There's an old saying, "God convicts in specifics, Satan condemns in generalities." What this means is that people can and should own their mistakes and take responsibility for specific things that they did (e.g., "In your meetings, your employees would prefer that you ask them about how they are doing before you jump into business...")  but it becomes overwhelming if the feedback is general like (e.g., "Your employees think you have style issues...")
  • If they start exhibiting resistance behaviors, respond to their comments questions once, maybe twice.
  • If they do not respond, stop talking and point out that you're stuck. Ask if there is a way to better present the information to them that would make it easier to hear. 
  • If they still not respond, then detach yourself from the outcome you hoped you could get your client to and quickly share what might happen as a consequence if they do not take action.
  • Offer direct choice - do nothing, move forward with your support, move forward without your support
  • Accept whatever choice they make and move on


I would not have believed that any of my clients were evil until I did a project for a client whose employee engagement scores were in the toilet. Halfway through the focus groups I was doing with employees to understand the engagement issues I realized I was not doing focus groups but grief groups because of the horrible management practices that were in place to protect the bonuses of the most senior leaders.

It was in that moment that I needed to make sure that my professional liability insurance was up-to-date because this report wasn't going to be a pretty one. The only way to handle these types of clients is to get your legal protection in place and get out.  

Bottom line

While it would be amazing to target our market to only attract wise clients, that is magical thinking especially when you consider the vulnerability that comes with change. Resistance happens when our clients experience that vulnerability coupled with loss of control and threats to self-esteem. Therefore, to excel in this type of work, we have to hone our skills to spot resistant behaviors and come up with strategies to provide meaningful support to our clients in their foolish moments.

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