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Flawless Consulting: A Guide to Getting Your Expertise Used / Edition 3

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Overview

When the landmark best-seller Flawless Consulting was first published more than three decades ago, it was quickly adopted as the "consultant's bible." With his legendary warmth and passion, Peter Block explained how to deal effectively with clients, peers, and others. The book continues to speak to people in a support function inside organizations as well as to external consultants.

This thoroughly revised and updated third edition of Peter Block's groundbreaking book explores the latest thinking on consultation. It includes new insights about how we can organize our consulting around discovering the strengths, positive examples, and gifts of the client organization or community. The book remains a practical and specific guide for anyone who needs to develop a capacity for deeper relatedness and partnership—which means it is for all who wish to make a real difference in the world.

This new edition covers the consulting challenges that have arisen from the way we routinely communicate electronically and live in the virtual world. Block suggests ways to overcome the distancing and isolating effects inherent in electronic connects. The book also includes practical guidance on how to ask better questions, gives suggestions for dealing with difficult clients, and contains expanded guidelines on more engaging forms of implementation.

Flawless Consulting includes two new examples, taken from health care and educational reform efforts, to show how consulting skills can be useful (and often transformative) in a broader context. These illustrative examples point the way for achieving changes for leadership in business, government, religion, human services, and more.

Like the first two editions, Flawless Consulting affirms the notion that authentic behavior and personal relationships are the key to technical and business success. By demonstrating their ability to be truly authentic at each step in the process, consultants can aim toward creating workplaces that are more collaborative and ultimately more successful.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"Who would have thought the 'consultant's bible' could be improved upon? Count on Peter Block -the consulting profession's very own revolutionary-to push us to confront and struggle with the paradoxes inherent in our work." (Candace Thompson, organization development consultant, First Chicago NBD - A Bank One Company)

"The first question to ask any consultants: Have you read Peter Block's Flawless Consulting? If they say no, don't hire them. Peter Block's advice is flawless!" (Barry Z. Posner, dean and professor of leadership, Leavey School of Business, co-author of The Leadership Challenge and Encouraging the Heart)

"Block has distilled years of experience into a wise, down-to-earth, and eminently practical guide to excellence in consulting. If you are new to the practice, Flawless Consulting will chop years off your learning cycle. And even if you're an old pro, Block's insights will elevate you to new levels of effectiveness. Flawless Consulting is not simply about becoming a better consultant; it is about using consulting as a path toward becoming a better person." (Barry Oshry, president, Power & Systems, Inc., author of Seeing Systems and Leading Systems)

"For external and internal consultants alike, Peter Block provides the roadmap to travel what always seems like unchartered terrain. The power behind Peter's work lies not only in the compass he provides but in helping us see how truly a forceful and powerfulinfluence one person can be." (Jack Lerner, vice-president of organization development & learning, The CIT Group)

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780470620748
  • Publisher: Wiley
  • Publication date: 3/15/2011
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Edition number: 3
  • Pages: 370
  • Sales rank: 62,057
  • Product dimensions: 7.20 (w) x 9.30 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Meet the Author

Peter Block is an author and consultant whose work is about empowerment, stewardship, chosen accountability, and the reconciliation of community. He is the author of several best-selling books, including the first two editions of Flawless Consulting, Stewardship, Community, and The Empowered Manager. He is a partner in Designed Learning, a training company that offers his personally designed workshops that help to build the skills outlined in his books.

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Read an Excerpt

Chapter 8: Understanding Resistance

...It is always amazing to me how important it is for people not to be surprised. It seems that whatever happens in the world is OK as long as they are not surprised. When you have completed a study, you can tell a manager that the building has collapsed, the workers have just walked out, the chief financial officer has just run off with the vice president of marketing, and the IRS is knocking on the door, and the manager's first response is, "I'm not surprised." It's like being surprised is the worst thing in the world that could happen. The manager's fear of surprise is really the desire to always be in control. When we run into it, it is kind of deflating. It can signal to us that what we have developed is really not that important or unique and downplay our contribution. See the client's desire not to be surprised for what it is - a form of resistance and not really a reflection on your work.

The most blatant form of resistance is when the client attacks us. With angry words, a red face, pounding his fist on the desk, pointing her finger in your face, punctuating the end of every sentence. It leaves the consultant feeling like a bumbling child who not only has done poor work, but has somehow violated a line of morality that should never be crossed. Our response to attack is often either to withdraw or to respond in kind. Both responses mean that we are beginning to take the attack personally and not seeing it as one other form the resistance is taking.

Whenever a client comes to us for help, the client is experiencing some legitimate confusion. This may not be resistance, but just a desire for clarity.After things become clear to you, however, and you explain it two or three times, and the client keeps claiming to be confused or not understand, start to think that confusion may be this client's way of resisting.

This is the toughest of all. We keep making overtures to the client and get very little response in return. The client is passive. A client may say he has no particular reaction to what you are proposing. When you ask for a reaction, he says, "Keep on going, I don't have any problems with what you are saying. If I do, I'll speak up." Don't you believe it. Silence never means consent. If you are dealing with something important to the organization, it is not natural for the client to have no reaction. Silence means that the reaction is being blocked. For some people, silence or withholding reactions is really a fight style. They are saying by their actions, "I am holding on so tightly to my position and my feelings, that I won't even give you words." Beware the silent client. If you think a meeting went smoothly because the manager didn't raise any objections, don't trust it. Ask yourself whether the client gave you any real support or showed any real enthusiasm or got personally involved in the action. If there were few signs of life, begin to wonder whether silence was the form the client's resistance was taking.

When a person shifts the discussion from deciding how to proceed and starts exploring theory after theory about why things are the way they are, you are face to face with intellectualizing as resistance. The client says, "A fascinating hypothesis is implied by these results. I wonder if there is an inverse relationship between this situation and the last three times we went under. The crisis seems to have raised a number of questions."

Spending a lot of energy spinning theories is a way of taking the pain out of a situation. It is a defense most of us use when we get into a tight spot. This is not to knock the value of a good theory or the need to understand what is happening to us. It is a caution against Corroding with the client in engaging in ceaseless wondering when the question is whether you and the client are going to be able to face up to a difficult situation. The time to suspect intellectualizing is when it begins at a high-tension moment or in a high-tension meeting. When this happens, your task is to bring the discussion back to actions, away from theories.

Moralizing resistance makes great use of certain words and phrases: "those people" and "should" and "they need to understand." When you hear them being used, you know you are about to go on a trip into a world of how things ought to be, which is simply a moralizing defense against reality. People use the phrase "those people" about anyone who's not in the room at the time. It is a phrase of superiority used in describing people who (1) are usually at a lower organizational level than the speaker, or (2) are unhappy about something the speaker has done and, therefore, "really don't understand the way things have to be."

Phrases of superiority are actually ways of putting oneself on a pedestal. Pedestal sitting is always a defense against feeling some uncomfortable feelings and taking some uncomfortable actions.

The phrase "they need to understand" means "I understand - they don't. Why don't they see things clearly and with the same broad perspective that I do? Ah, the burdens of knowing are great and unceasing!" Frequently "those people" the speaker is talking about do understand. They understand perfectly. The problem (for the speaker) is that they don't agree. So instead of confronting the conflict in views, the speaker escapes into a moralistic position.

Moralizing can be seductive to the consultant. The moralizing manager is inviting you to join him or her in a very select circle of people who know what is best for "those people" and who know what they "need to understand." This is an elite position to be in; it has the feeling of power and it is well-protected-if the rest of the organization does not appreciate what you do, this is just further indication how confused they are and how much more they need you! Resist the temptation with as much grace and persistence as possible.

The most difficult form of resistance to see comes from the compliant manager who totally agrees with you and eagerly wants to know what to do next. It is hard to see compliance as resistance because you are getting exactly what you want - agreement and respect. If you really trust the concept that in each manager there is some ambivalence about your help, then when you get no negative reaction at all, you know something is missing.

Each client has some reservations about a given course of action. If the reservations don't get expressed to you, they will come out somewhere else, perhaps in a more destructive way. I would rather the reservations get said directly to me, then I can deal with them. You can tell when the agreeable client is resisting by compliance. You are getting this form of resistance any time there is almost total absence of any reservations and a low energy agreement. If the agreement is made with high energy, and enthusiasm and sincere understanding of what we are facing, you might simply feel lucky and not take it as resistance, even if there are few reservations expressed. But beware the client who expresses a desire to quickly get to solutions without any discussion of problems - also the client who acts very dependent on you and implies that whatever you do is fine.

If there has been elaborate data collection in your project, the first wave of questions will be about your methods. If you administered a questionnaire, you will be asked about how many people responded, at what level of response, and whether the findings are statistically significant at the .05 level. Next will be questions about how people in the guardhouse and on the night shift responded....

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Table of Contents

What’s New? xiii

Acknowledgments xxi

1 A Consultant by Any Other Name . . . 1

Some Definitions and Distinctions 2 / Consulting Skills Preview 6 / The Promise of Flawless Consultation 9

2 Techniques Are Not Enough 13

Beyond Content 14 / The Consultant’s Assumptions 17 / The Consultant’s Goals 19 / Developing Client Commitment––A Secondary Goal of Each Consulting Act 21 / Roles Consultants Choose 22 / Collaboration and the Fear of Holding Hands 27 / Staging the Client’s Involvement, Step by Step 29

3 Flawless Consulting 37

Being Authentic 37 / Completing the Requirements of Each Phase 40 / Results 46 / Accountability 47 / The Right to Fail 49

4 Contracting Overview 51

Contracting: The Concept and the Skill 52 / Elements of a Contract 57 / Ground Rules for Contracting 65

5 The Contracting Meeting 67

Who Is the Client? 68 / Navigating the Contracting Meeting 70/ When You Get Stuck 87 / The Problem with Saying No 95 / Contracting Checkpoint 96 / Selling Your Services: Good Selling Is Good Contracting 98 / The Meeting as a Model of How You Work 102 / Closing the Contracting Meeting 103 / After the Contracting Meeting 104

6 The Agonies of Contracting 107

Dealing with Low Motivation 107 / Ceaseless Negotiation: The Shifting Tide of Your Role 109 / Some Other Specific Agonies 113 / The Virtual World 115

7 The Internal Consultant 121

Important Differences Between Internal and External Consultants 122 / Triangles and Rectangles 124

8 Understanding Resistance 129

The Faces of Resistance 130 / What Are Clients Resisting When They Are Resisting Us? 138 / Underlying Concerns 140 / Sometimes It Is Not Resistance 143 / The Fear and the Wish 143 / Ogres and Angels 147 / . . . And Heroics 148

9 Dealing with Resistance 149

Three Steps for Handling Resistance 151 / Don’t Take It Personally 155 / Good-Faith Responses 156 / Consulting with a Stone 157

10 From Diagnosis to Discovery 159

It Is Still the Relationship That Counts 160 / The Call to Action 163 / The Problem Is Not the Problem 167 / How the Problem Is Being Managed 170 / Flawless Discovery 172

11 Whole-System Discovery 175

Third-Party Consulting 176 / Taking a Whole-System Approach 178 / Your Choice 179 / Putting Whole-System Discovery to Work 180 / The Payoff 182

12 Discovering Gifts, Capacities, and Possibilities 183

When All Else Fails 185 / The Power of Positive Deviance 186 / The Implications of Positive Deviance for Consulting 189 / An Example of What Is Working 190

13 Get the Picture 201

The Steps in Getting the Picture 202 / A Word About Bias 206 / Assessing How the Situation Is Being Managed 207 / The Discovery Interview 210 / Levels of Analysis 211 / Your Experience as Data 214

14 Preparing for Feedback 217

A Clear Picture May Be Enough 217 / Condensing the Data 218 / Some Do’s and Don’ts 219 / Language in Giving the Picture 221 / Presenting the Picture . . . As Courtroom Drama 223 / Support and Confront 225

15 Managing the Meeting for Action 229

How to Present the Picture 230 / Structuring the Meeting 231 / The Meeting for Action, Step by Step 233 / A Recap 241 / Resistance in the Meeting 242 / When Group Members Are at Odds Among Themselves 244 / Modeling the Meeting 246

16 Implementation 249

Choosing Engagement over Installation 250 / Deciding Doesn’t Get It Done 251 / The Limits of Installation 252 / Betting on Engagement 258

17 The Elements of Engagement 261

The Meeting Is the Message 262 / Eight Ways to Engage 263 / The Point 275

18 Teacher as Consultant 279

The Story 280 / Assumptions About Motivating Students 281 / The Reality 282 / Taking a Consultant’s Stance 283 / The Trip to Washington, D.C. 293 / The Choice in the Matter 296

19 The Heart of the Matter 299

Choosing Learning over Teaching 300 / Learning as a Social Adventure 302 / The Struggle Is the Solution 303 / The Question Is More Important Than the Answer 304 / Beyond How 305 / Insight Resides in Moments of Tension 307 / Capacities Bear More Fruit Than Deficiencies 309 / We Are Responsible for One Another’s Learning 311 / Culture Changes in the Moment 312 / If Change Is So Wonderful, Why Don’t You Go First? 313 / The Final Question Is One of Faith 315

Online Appendix: Handy Checklists You Can Use 317

Further Reading 319

About the Author 323

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Sort by: Showing all of 10 Customer Reviews
  • Posted May 26, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    I Also Recommend:

    Hands down the best book on consulting I ever read.

    I have to admit that I really liked Peter Block's "Flawless Consulting". This book was originally written in 1978, and then revised in 1998. I expected the book to be dated and irrelevant, but it wasn't. The concepts that Block wrote about many years ago are still very much applicable today.
    Having been a consultant for 6 years, I especially liked this book because it focuses on the style of consulting I like (or rather liked!) to do -- improving the capability of the client to find and implement his/her own solutions. I was especially impressed by the emphasis Block places on how to establish a relationship with the client, as well as defining the assignment. Consultants love to define assignments, but often don't give much thought to the relationship.
    The book is also well balanced between the needs of those who are internal consultants as well as external consultants/experts.

    A great strength of the book is that there are extensive examples of the same issue so that you can get a good perspective, even if you don't yet have much experience as a consultant. So it is a terrific book for those who are new to consulting. For those of us who have had consulting experience, there is still a lot to learn. The questions and checklists Block provides throughout the book are practically a book by themselves. They are very well designed and address the most important issues. What I especially found useful were the extensive list of ways to diagnose what may be going wrong when the client asks questions or is inactive. I found even more useful the many ingenious responses to those situations that had never occurred to me. I have stumbled into a few successes in my consulting career and can look back and see it is because I applied the concepts of this book - whether by design or accident. Conversely, I can also see some other situations where the application of these concepts would have been very useful.

    Block strikes a perfect balance between theory and execution. In fact, there is a lot of both. He backs up his theories with flowcharts, checklists, and even cartoons.

    This book is the real deal. Block clearly knows what he is talking about when it comes to organizations and the consulting process. There is no doubt you will be a much improved consultant or manager if you learn and apply the methods in the book. Truly a classic, and a "must have" for anyone who consults, or who hires consultants.

    5 out of 6 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 5, 2002

    Tremendous guide for both formal and informal consultants!

    This is an amazing book! Peter Block's Flawless Consulting, is a textbook appropriate not only for consultants but for anyone that wants to share their expertise with others. Block explains, 'You are consulting any time you are trying to change or improve a situation but have no direct control over the implementation.' <p>About his audacious title, he asserts that it is possible for us to operate without error. To consult flawlessly 'requires intense concentration on two process. (1)Being as authentic as you can be at all times with the client; (2)Attending directly, in words and actions, to the business of each stage of the consulting process.' <p>Having set the bar extremely high, Block doesn't leave the reader trying to figure out what 'being authentic' and 'attending to the business of each stage' means. Flawless Consulting is an extremely practical book. Flawless Consulting is replete with checklists, case scenarios, suggested wording (sometimes entire scripts), business recommendations, and practical insights. The book is saturated with Block's wonderful sense of humor and humanity. <p>Unlike some second editions that are content to simply add a new preface and some cosmetic changes to the dust jacket, Block has updated information throughout the book and added entirely new chapters on: Whole-System Discovery, Implementation, Strategies for Engagement, Ethics and the Shadow Side of Consulting, The Heart of the Matter. <p>Though not a consultant in the formal sense, I found his insights delightfully applicable to my day-to-day work. So much so that I nearly underlined every line in the book and made notes in the margins! Despite all the great information I gleaned, I think people more formally involved in consulting will get even more from Flawless Consulting. I highly recommend this book for anyone who interested in Getting Your Expertise Used.

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 5, 2012

    Packed Full of Excellent Information and Advise

    I have yet to finish the book but have found the information very helpful in developing my understanding of consultation as a practice. I have been within the educational arena for over a decade and have considered starting my own educational consulting firm. Still have a long way to go and would love the opportunity to meet Peter Block in person.

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  • Posted September 19, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    THE BOOK on Consulting

    Time tested and approved, Block's Flawless Consulting is required reading for everyone considering a Consulting Career.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 10, 2003

    Cookbook for enhancing customer satisfaction and managing engagements

    I purchased this book in 1999 when it was first published, and I have given countless copies to new consultants over the years. The messages in this book are simple and concise. It illustrates how to raise the bar on true consulting rather than being a 'consultant' by name. A must have for any consultants bookshelf, and something to review at least once a year.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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    Posted January 13, 2009

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