During my first consulting project， I was asked to construct a sales plan for an insurance company. The first step was to meet Adam， the director of sales， to discuss forecasting assumptions. A list of questions in hand， I knocked on the door. To my surprise， Adam was very formal in his reception. He did not understand why we were meeting， so I explained that I would be creating sales plans. At that point， he became outright hostile， he barked out his nonanswer to my questions and informed me he was very busy preparing sales plans. Before I could suggest cooperation， I was ushered out， and the door slammed behind me. Too shocked to react to the secretary＇s condescending smirk， I attempted to grasp why a textbook opportunity for teamwork became such a spectacular failure. What had I done to attract such hostility？ I had just wanted to help. I called my engagement manager to complain， but he just accused me of handling the situation poorly. I was crushed and convinced that I was not cut out for consulting.
To this day， I am not sure why Adam was so hostile. Retrospectively， I can only guess that he was insulted and threatened， because no one had formally requested his assistance. Instead， a twenty-two-year-old appeared in his office， ready to perform one of his most challenging tasks.
Adam and I never became friends， but the incident profoundly affected the way I communicate. Now， every time I interview a client， I begin by exploring and allaying any fears the person might have. I explain the project＇s rationale and seek a frank reaction. The rapport thus established makes the interviewees comfortable enough to share private opinions. This very human interaction not only secures me with quick yet profound insights， but also relationships that often far outlast consulting project.