When it comes to providing service, especially in the world of consulting and workplace training, there is one quality that I believe is more powerful than any other for enabling us to transform the lives of the people we serve. It's not something you'll find on a list of strengths in a personality profile or a Myers-Briggs assessment, though it can liberate us like nothing else - the ability to be vulnerable, or as I like to call it, "naked."
Although many people see it as something soft, or worse yet, a sign of weakness, vulnerability is anything but. In fact, the ability to be naked - to be comfortable with our weaknesses, to admit our mistakes, and to leave ourselves open to being taken advantage of or looked down upon - is probably the greatest sign of strength we can demonstrate as consultants. It disarms clients and allows them to trust us, leading them to be more open to their own development, which is ultimately what our profession is all about.
One of the most powerful ways a consultant can demonstrate nakedness is by doing something I call "entering the danger." It is a term that I learned years ago when my wife dragged me to an improv class.
In the world of improvisational theater, entering the danger has to do with actors not shying away from bizarre and wacky comments by their fellow actors, but instead walking right into the middle of those comments and using them to produce great comedy. In the world of consulting, it is about having the courage to call out and address a client's most difficult and potentially explosive issues, or being willing to enter into a messy (perhaps painful) situation, even when a client seems unwilling to do so.
Entering the danger is powerful because it makes a bold and unequivocal statement that you care more about helping your client than about protecting your business. Whenever I've entered the danger with clients, they almost always stop me afterward and say something to the effect of "thank you for making us deal with that issue; we've been avoiding it for way too long."
Now, entering the danger does have costs. First, it is always uncomfortable. As positive as it almost always turns out to be in the end, it can be downright scary in the moment. Second, in rare cases, a client won't appreciate the naked approach and might very well punish you, going so far as to end your relationship. But without the discomfort and possibility of backfire, there would be no danger.
For those who are willing to endure the discomfort and risk the possibility of rejection, the benefits are substantial: greater client loyalty, commitment, and referenceability; a sense of liberation knowing that you can call out whatever needs to be called out, regardless of the cost; and most important of all, the ability to help clients make real progress around their most difficult issues. At the end of day, those benefits easily outweigh the costs.