Cognitive dissonance is a state where two conflicting ideas or experiences collide. Many people in consulting and related professional services are almost incapacitated by this phenomenon, because their frustration and stress are exponentially increased.
And I’m here to tell you why that is.
If you call yourself a “consultant” but are usually hired merely to complete a task for the client, you are not a consultant, you are a subcontractor or part-time employee. This is especially prevalent among “IT consultants.” If you are paid to write code or program some sequence simply because the client has no one around who can do it—and a thousand people like you can do it equally well and exactly the same way—you’re not a consultant. (And you’re subject to enormous price pressures, because you’re a commodity.)
Consequently, if you call yourself a consultant, but find that you can only charge a few dollars an hour, have to work at someone else’s beck and call, and have zero differentiation, you’re facing one heck of a set of conflicting ideas and experiences every waking hour. At the very least, that’s beyond depressing.
Consultants help improve the client’s condition by providing ideas, advice, intellectual property, best practices, proprietary approaches, unique behavior and other interventions which not only make them distinctly attractive, but draw people to them. Consultants are not another pair of hands. They are a new brain.
If you are hired by clients to teach courses the clients have already developed, you’re not a consultant. You are a contract trainer, simply providing help that their own training people (or lack of them) can’t handle. You are one of kibillions of people who could do that. But if you design the program, or bring unique intellectual property to it, or arrange for it to be conducted remotely, then you are a consultant, improving the client’s condition in your distinctive way.
If you contribute a chapter to a book, you are not a book author. If you create a work of 20 chapters contributed by other people you haven’t created a book, you’ve created a compilation. If you have four insurance products to sell in health, property, life, and disability coverage, you’re not an “insurance consultant,” you’re an insurance agent. We scoff at garbage collectors—who perform important work—who call themselves “sanitary engineers.” Why is that ludicrous, but a speaker with a single speech calling himself a “sales consultant” is not?
I found a teacher from nearby Warwick—on strike—in a coffee shop here once calling herself not a teacher, but a “Warwick educator.” Maybe that’s part of the problem.
I wrote an earlier piece here on the blog about not lying to me by first not lying to yourself. If you continue to call yourself one thing but act in a completely different fashion, the lie you try to maintain will cause you great stress, because the goal you seek can’t be found on the road you’re traveling.
Everyone in a bank is a vice president today. Yet most of them can’t even authorize a new set of checks, let alone find you a loan. You are not your fancy business card, no matter how many colors, photos, and cute sayings you print on it.
If you want to reduce the horrific, subliminal stress and agita caused by cognitive dissonance, change your behavior to match your objectives. You can’t call yourself a consultant and act like a hired hand without doing damage to your ego.
You don’t follow your dream by following all the people in front of you and lying to yourself that somehow you’re really different. Move out of the crowd and actually be different.
Try this: Print a business card with just your name and contact information. When someone asks, “Who are you with and what do you do?” tell them, “I’m with me, and I help you.”
© Alan Weiss 2010. All rights reserved.