A Chameleon Consultant – Learning How to Be Who Your Customers Need

A “chameleon” consultant?  Yes! There are some great qualities we can observe and learn from these transformative creatures as it relates to growing effective leadership and influence in our own professions. But before we dive into all that, a quick science lesson. Chameleons change colors by rearranging a lattice of nanocrystals in one of the top layers of skin cells. This is an important aspect, and one I’ll talk more about below, because they’re not changing who they are at the core. Rather, they’re rearranging just the top layer – and in this case, we’ll apply it to communications style and approach – to achieve what they want to achieve from their environment. And then there’s this really cool part…

“Chameleons normally do their best to blend into the background. But when confronting a rival, they rapidly switch on bolder colors, changing from green to yellow, for example.”

So in short, chameleons are smart, savvy, badass communicators who have figured out a way to make their external situations work in their favor, while still very much remaining in control. Do you see where I’m going here? These are some powerful themes we can apply to our personal and professional lives! Keep reading for colorful advice on learning how to be who your customers need while staying strong and bold in your unique identity.

Listen and Observe

If you want to apply the principles of a chameleon in your favor, you have to start every relationship and every conversation by first observing. Take in all the cues of your surrounding, especially the nonverbal ones. In my own experience, I have met clients who land all across the spectrum, from timid and unsure to bold and headstrong. Everyone has a unique communication style and responds differently to different approaches. Over time, and with keen attention to detail, I’ve learned how to first listen and observe situations to determine each client’s communication style and then adjust my own accordingly. I know that my approach to handling an alpha male won’t resonate with a passive, timid person. Sometimes clients need bold, unedited opinions and sometimes they need a gentle, soothing approach. I’ve also learned that a person’s past often frames their communication style today. Did they have a bad experience previously with someone who formerly filled your role? Is there something bigger going on in their personal life? All of these things – fairly or unfairly – dictate the type of consultant they need in their life today.

Identify Needs and Align Skills

Once you’ve keenly observed your first few interactions with a client or team, look to identify what it is they need from you. Think beyond the tangible services you offer. I’ve found sometimes clients need a bit of a therapist or someone to vent to. They may need reassurance or someone to put them in their place. Again, their communication style will give you all the clues you need to transform your own approach to meet their needs. Look to blend and align your skills just like a chameleon rearranges its nanocrystals to respond to the evolving environment. 

Check Your Ego at the Door

A chameleon who isn’t willing to change its colors won’t be nearly as effective at survival as one who is. In many instances, strong personalities are good! Speaking up and taking bold action is good! But it can quickly tip the scales in the wrong direction if you’re not mindful of how this is perceived by the customers you serve. There’s a time and place to speak candidly and take the lead in the direction you know to be best. But the best client relationships are built on a foundation of trust and understanding where every person involved feels reflected in the decisions that are being made. A chameleon consultant checks their ego at the door and becomes the color (or the person) their surroundings call for at that moment. It may not be your favorite color to wear, but it pleases others and you’re not really looking at you – your clients are, however. 

Prioritize Clear Communication

This piece of advice is important enough to read twice! We may think we’re communicating one thing while someone else is reading it entirely differently. With everything you do as a consultant, you need to prioritize clear communications and carefully look for clues that indicate something may be awry. Imagine a chameleon who *thinks* he’s green to accommodate its surroundings, but really he’s bright orange. Oops! The same happens with us all the time. From the start of every client relationship, create clear communication channels, encourage authenticity, establish a safe space to share ideas where everyone feels heard, and celebrate honesty and vulnerability. Without strong communication at the foundation, everything you build together will ultimately crumble.

Remain Authentic at the Core

Most importantly, you can adjust your communication style and approach with clients while still remaining true to who you are. Remember, a chameleon only rearranges its top of layers of skin to produce a different color. The same is true of this advice. Be willing to adjust that “top layer” how your outwardly facing client relations (i.e. tone, word choice, positivity, organization, and leadership style). Your skills, expertise, and most importantly, your results will still reflect who you are at the core.

What aspect of being a “Chameleon Consultant” is most appealing or interesting to you? How does this advice relate to whatever professional role you may play today? Join the conversation by leaving a comment below.

2 thoughts on “A Chameleon Consultant – Learning How to Be Who Your Customers Need

    1. What a great question! I can’t speak to that personally, as I’ve not filled a public office role. But I have worked with politicians and candidates extensively throughout my career. My consensus, it depends on the person, their natural communication style, and their motives. Some can indeed remain authentic but yield their communication style to better appeal to others. While others, we’ll…let’s just say authenticity is lost long before communication styles are a consideration.

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