Consulting Fears

A recent Masters degree graduate in Organizational Development confides the following: “I’m preparing for my first encounter with a new client. I’m nervous. Even though I have my notes laid out with questions and talking points, I feel like I’m going to come across as inexperienced or inept.” She wonders what she can do to calm down.

Here’s the thing about issues like this:  While we could offer loads of advice, the problem is that heeding it while in an agitated state of mind is difficult.

I could start by saying the way to control your jitters is to prepare. To rehearse your lines. To guess at what your client will have to say. But I’m not going to. Because these are elementary. They’re givens. And it sounds like our young consultant is actively doing them.

I could say your client doesn’t want to see a nervous consultant. If you come across as shaky and unsure, your client will doubt and distrust  your abilities. So don’t let him see you sweat. That kind of advice is a lot like saying “inhale but don’t exhale.”

Instead, I’d urge this young consultant to keep in mind that anticipation is so much more unnerving than reality. The horrors and crucibles you imagine while you brace for a critical client meeting prove neither as numerous nor as acute as you prefigured.

Unfortunately, pointing this out is not terribly comforting when you’re anxiety-ridden. And therein lies the problem. All the logic in the world won’t pacify a person’s reflexive angst. In fact the only thing that will is the expected catastrophe that never arrives!

When what you dread fails to materialize, it’s a retrospective ah-hah. Over time, you learn from this kind of discovery. In fact, experienced professionals who reflect back on their early irrational apprehensions admit they feel silly for having been so weak-kneed in the first place!

There’s also this… not a happy thought but a realistic one: Sometimes discovering that your dread about an upcoming meeting was unwarranted may not subdue your next bout with the next new client. This is because dread is learning disabled. It can be contained, but it’s slow as hell to learn.

Sort of makes you sympathetic to the timorous tremblers in life, doesn’t it? Makes you realize that guys like Caesar and Coolidge were on to something:

Julius Caesar said, “As a rule, what is out of sight disturbs men’s minds more seriously than what they see.”

And Calvin Coolidge once said, “If you see ten troubles coming down the road, you can be sure that nine will run into the ditch before they reach you.”

Finally, try to remember this: Anticipatory nervousness speaks volumes about your high expectations, sense of responsibility, and resolve to perform admirably. Believe it or not, it actually increases your chances of conducting yourself with skill and aplomb. In an odd way, our Master’s graduate should be welcoming her butterflies.


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