Home > Blog > The Swiss Army knife of professional development

4 September 2023    |    Blog

The Swiss Army knife of professional development

Working as an independent consultant with a range of clients means you’re always developing your knowledge and skills, and identifying good opportunities for professional development can be a challenge…

When that happens, I reflect on the tools I have found most useful in working with clients. And top of the charts is the mediation training I did at the beginning of my career as a consultant, says CforG member Sarah Willcox

At the time the objective was to gain confidence in an area of work I could see was beneficial to clients. But that early training has given me so much more. The skills I developed by practising as a mediator have also proved essential as a consultant. The following list are practices I have found to be vital when helping my clients navigate business change, and I hope they might be useful for fellow Consultants for Good too.

Hear what is being said

One of the first things you do as a mediator is to listen. Hearing the concerns of each party in the dispute is vital to the success of the process. You can tell a lot about a situation by listening attentively to what is being said. How it’s being said. Who is saying it. When it’s being said. And often most importantly what’s NOT being said.

Seeking shared understanding

Listening has an additional benefit too. By being attentive, you demonstrate the value of seeking to understand rather than challenge or defend. So many disputes arise from misunderstanding or misinterpretation. Spending some time ensuring we’re all talking about the same thing means we can make progress very quickly, and reduces resistance.

Pause and reflect

Of course, attentive listening requires silence. Appreciating the value of a pause in conversation is vital. Knowing when to take a beat before moving on is tremendously beneficial to all parties. Silence will allow ideas to settle. And float to the surface.

Trust is key

Trusting in the process is also key to the work I do. It’s sometimes challenging when a delivery focused client wants to get moving. You need to be clear about the steps you’ll be taking in a meditation. At the same time, you need to stay open to the conversations that have to be had. This can be a real challenge. Your role as a mediator, though, is to act as a container for the things that come up in discussion. Make sure these are explored, and help the parties find their way to a safe harbour.

The unknown

So much of mediation – and working as a change consultant – requires being comfortable with uncertainty. Parties in a dispute are often anxious to know how things will turn out. When coupled with the need to trust the process, this can be a tricky balance. You have to be confident in the process whilst also being at ease with not knowing the outcome.  If you are able to achieve this balance, your clients will gain the confidence to make the changes they are looking for. They will find it easier to not pre-judge a situation, or rush to a solution.

Staying objective

Neutrality is so important. None of these things can be done if you’re in the middle of a dispute or a challenging organisational change. If you are part of a situation, it will be impossible for you to have the objectivity needed to balance all interests and perspectives. That is where you will find value in contacting another member of Consultants for Good.


Sarah Willcox