It’s Not You, It’s We

“It’s not you, it’s me” is one of the classic breakup lines. Seinfeld even has an entire episode dedicated to the line in which George gets quite adamant about inventing the line. Now this has very little direct application in a client-consultant relationship and this post has nothing to do with breaking up with a client. Instead, it is how this line might be adapted and used during conversations with a client.

Very often there is an us versus them mentality in client-consultant relationships. The client wants this, thinks that is wrong, and the consultants believe their methods are tried and true and should be listened to. This back and forth, pitting of sides is not beneficial to either side or in the completion of a project. This might be most evident during critiques and when presenting concepts. The design team will stand in front of a room and share their concepts with stakeholders. Very often the presentation will include lines such as “Our designs include” and “I found that what <insert_client_name_here> does is wrong compared to this solution” and so on. Clients will return in favor with questions such as “Why did you choose this” and “That won’t work for me.”

Rather than defend my designs, or attack a client’s perspective, I have tried to change the language I engage with everyone in the room. Design is a collaborative exercise and some of the best designs occur when the stakeholders have vested interest in the solution and feel they have contributed not only to the hiring of external help but their process as well. For this reason, I remove the my, me, I, you, us, and them from the conversation in place for we. This resonates with simple conflict resolution. Don’t say ‘I am mad because you didn’t call’ but instead ‘I am made because I was hoping to talk’ Similarly, saying ‘We went this direction because we know your business requires these features’ is less effective than ‘we know this direction solves our (collective) requirements better.” As a consultant, you are brought into a company to be a part of the team, not to be the guiding light or monarch of design. Embrace the fact that you are, for all intents and purposes, part of the client team and a permanent fixture, without all the headache of being a permanent part of the team. One of the biggest parts of that is leaving ego at the door and remembering that, though you are the designer you are designing a product that is owned by someone else. Remember, “It’t not you, it’s we”.

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