Join a Reflective Group for Consultants to understand the dynamic of projected loneliness.
In a recent blog, it dawned on Marisa Guerin, a former colleague of ours from ISPSO, that after a year of retirement from her consulting work, she was no longer feeling lonely in the way she used to think was normal (since she would have expected the opposite).
Marisa offers a keen insight into the sources of loneliness of the consultant: paradoxically, it is not about spending considerable time thinking about, planning for, and implementing work on behalf of clients. Marisa equates the lonely of the solo practitioner with the lonely of the organisational leader, who, no matter if they have access to collegial support from peers who will listen and offer ideas – remain essentially lonely within their own work – ultimately, the solo nature of this type of role is unavoidable.
Marisa reflects on her consulting practice which produced a chronic, low-level condition of loneliness that she did not think unusual at the time. She now sees that perhaps she did not notice the emotional price that organisational leaders and solo consultant practitioners pay by virtue of occupying their roles. A respondent to Marisa’s blog offers a useful comment that the key to understanding this particular kind of loneliness lies is the burden consultants and leaders take on for others when working on organisational issues. It is not so much that one is alone in the office and does not see anyone or chat or have lunch with anyone. It is the burden of carrying the problem for the client that makes it lonely.
Consultants are paid to sort through a confusion/dilemma/mess and make tough decisions i.e., we take on the confusion/dilemma or mess that the client seeks to avoid. Organisations ask for a consultant to help when they are feeling lonely themselves about how to fix a problem or stuck in a mess and have lost energy or enthusiasm to try to find a way out. Being a consultant means taking on the burden of a loss of relationship in that organisation. It may be a loss of trust or a loss of confidence, or an inability to see the way forward. But in any case, it is a loss of relationship and trust that has led to the need for a consultant. The blog respondent writes that organisations want to ‘hand over’ the problem, without acknowledging or discussing the underlying issues that cause it. They are asking the consultant to find a solution to a problem which generally has many more layers to it than has been stated. So, there is the loneliness of not being told the whole truth about the real issue (not deliberate, but common); there is a parental loneliness where the client does not want to take responsibility and places the consultant in the parent role; there is a loneliness of being paid to be the one person who can come up with a solution, when it will only ever be solved through connection and trust. As consultants, we mirror the problem in the organisation and it is a problem which has its roots in loneliness.
If you feel this description of the lonely applies to you in your role as consultant and you would like to join a community of consultant practitioners – you can participate in a regular reflective consultancy group that, in addition to exploring roles and tasks of organisational consultancy, also supports consultants in their practice. Find out more information about the Organisational Consultancy Reflective Group here where you can also apply online and pay the deposit. The Group consists of a series of meetings beginning in January 2019.