power meeting from above

“Process Consultation,” also known as “Process Consulting” is a unique approach developed by Dr. Edgar Schein, Professor Emeritus at MIT. Here, in Dr. Schein’s own words, are ten principles that are the essence of process consultation:

Ten Principles as the Essence of Process Consultation by Dr. Edgar Schein

“In reflecting on process consultation and the building of a “helping relationship,” the question arises: where is the emphasis or the essence that makes this philosophy of helping “different”? Why bother to learn all of this stuff. In my reflections on some 40 years of practicing “this stuff,” I have concluded that the essence is in the word relationship. To put it bluntly, I have come to believe that the decisive factor as to whether or not help will occur in human situations involving personality, group dynamics, and culture is the relationship between the helper and the person, group, or organization that needs help. From that point of view, every action I take, from the beginning contact with a client, should be an intervention that simultaneously allows both the client and me to diagnose what is going on and that builds a relationship between us. When all is said and done, I measure my success in every contact by whether or not I felt the relationship has been helpful and whether or not the client felt helped. Furthermore, from that point of view, the principles, guidelines, practical tips, call them what you like, fall-out as the kinds of that kind of helping relationship. Let us review the principles from that point of view.”

1. Always try to be careful. “Obviously, if I have no intention of being helpful and hardworking at it, it is unlike to lead to a helping relationship.”

2. Always stay in touch with the current reality. “I cannot be helpful if I cannot decipher what is going on in myself, in the situation, and in the client.”

3. Access your ignorance. “The only way I can discover my own inner reality is to learn to distinguish what I know from what I assume I know, from what I truly do not know. And I have learned from experience that it is generally most helpful to work on those areas where I truly do not know.”

4. Everything you do is an intervention. “Just as every interaction reveals diagnostic information, so does every interaction have consequences, both for the client and me. I therefore have to own everything I do and assess the consequences to be sure that they fit my goals of creating a helping relationship.”

5. It is the client who owns the problem and the solution. “My job is to create a relationship in which the client can get help. It is not my job to take the client’s problems onto my own shoulders, nor is it my job to offer advice and solutions in a situation that I do not live in myself.”

6. Go with the flow. “Inasmuch as I do not know the client’s reality, I must respect as much as possible the natural flow in that reality and not impose my own sense of flow on an unknown situation.”

7. Timing is crucial. “Over and over I have learned that the introduction of my perspective, the asking of a clarifying question, the suggestion of alternatives, or whatever else I want to introduce from my own point of view has to be timed to those moments when the client’s attention is available.

8. Be constructively opportunistic with interventions. “When the client signals a moment of openness, a moment when his or her attention to a new input appears to be available, I find I seize those moments and try to make the most of them.”

9. Everything is a source of data; errors are inevitable. Learn from them. “No matter how well I observe the previous principles I will say and do things that produce unexpected and undesirable reactions in the client. I must learn from them and at all costs avoid defensiveness, shame, or guilt.”

10. When in doubt, share the problem. “Inevitably, there will be times in the relationship when I run out of gas, don’t know what to do next, feel frustrated, and in other ways get paralyzed. In situations like this, I found that the most helpful thing I could do was to share my ‘problem’ with the client. Why should I assume that I always know what to do next? Inasmuch as it is the client’s problem and reality we are dealing with, it is entirely appropriate for me to involve the client in my own efforts to be helpful.”

These principles do not tell me what to do. Rather, they are reminders of how to think about the situation I am in. They offer guidelines when the situation is a bit ambiguous. Also they remind me of what it is I am trying to do. –Ed Schein

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