When a client gives feedback about being too critical & not positive (updated, 2022)

There are organizations which commission OD interventions, and as the process unfolds, the consultant gets the message “don’t be so negative!” or, “try and be more positive”.

At face value this appears to be legitimate criticism. However, I suggest to be extra careful on understanding what lies behind this message.

If the message comes from HR, it may be because the boat is starting to rock.No one fears their job and positioning more than HR, and thus their  anxiety is often projected on the vendor. “These OD consultants/“vendors” were commissioned to make things better! If things are not getting better fast, perhaps MY “vendor choice” was wrong”. In such a case, it is important to be fully aligned with the direct client so that he or she can manage HR’s fear.

If the message comes from the client system with whom you work, I suggest the following:

1) Ask yourself if you have  managed expectations properly? If you were forced to be optimistic when commissioned, it is time to reset expectations. If you have not stated that things get worse before they get better, I suggest repeating this statement several times to yourself-and then to the client.

2) I suggest reframing what  being negative and positive are all about. The client needs to start to understand that negativity may be realism and positive may be hallucinatory. This may be the critical path of success or failure of the project.

3) There may be an unseen political issue. For example, in the case that a particularly hard intervention is carried out when board members from abroad are visiting, this may be the motive behind asking for things to be cooled down. In this case, it is best to be prudent.

4) The clients of today may not have a clue that you need to break eggs to make an omelette. They expect ready made solutions without pain. If this is what they really want, it is best to back off, allow a magician to fail and then re-approach the client in a few years.

5) Post corona, problems have arisen which are beyond the scope of OD to cope with. Mass resignations for example are a societal trend and there is  little that OD can do. I do know that some magicians think that people leave organizations mainly because of bad managers, but post corona this is nonsense.

6) Many problems cannot be solved by an OD consultant. If there are no software engineers, OD won’t pull them of a hat. And if Sales is pushing a non existing product that crashes on arrival, it is best to focus efforts on getting the product to work, and less on improving communication between sales and development.

Follow me on twitter @AllonShevat

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8 thoughts on “When a client gives feedback about being too critical & not positive (updated, 2022)

  1. Points well taken, Allon. To your list of possibilities I would add another: It is also possible to renegotiate expectations, not simply reset them (which sounds awfully unilateral).

  2. There is, especially in the US, a lack of cultural embrace of ‘negative’ – people do not know how to fail and they do not know how to manage negative news. This is an interesting and important post.

  3. Barbara was one of the first folks to confront the pink campaign vis a vis breast cancer – he annoyance that she was not allowed to feel bad, that she should embrace pinkness and teddy bears – and that this simply dumbed down the brutal and ugly truth about breast cancer. She had a similarly incisive mind about working hourly wage jobs.

    Joan Didion did a similarly thing in her writing about the death of a spouse and later of her child. Her anger at the medical establishment which suggested that she should be fine after x number of months.

    • Thank you for writing this. I am a breast cancer traveler and do a great deal of outreach. The pinkwash covers up the issue that Komen accepts billions of dollars from companies whose products cause cancer.

  4. Point well taken I would add that discussing what came across as negative whether HR or other client my reveal a gold vain in the mine and allow for realigning expectations.

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