Over the years, I’ve received a lot of great advice. One piece of advice I keep coming back to is about managing expectations. It came from an old friend, just a few days after I’d started my consulting practice.
He was a seasoned consultant himself and I had asked him what I should know, just starting out. He told me his First Rule of Consulting:
No matter how much you try,
you can’t stop people
from sticking beans up their nose.
That was it. Beans up the nose. Really.
At the time, I thought he was nuts. Now, I’ve come to realize those are words to live by.
The idea is blindingly simple. Every so often, you’ll run into someone with beans who, for no good reason, has decided to put them up their own nose. Way up there. In a place where beans should never go.
Now, there is no logical explanation for this. There is no way to say, “Yes, I can see exactly why you’d want to do that.” They came to this decision all on their own. Their path to this decision defies logic.
Yet, here they are. Waiting for the moment when the bean goes up the nose.
And here’s the thing: As an observer of this decision’s outcome, all we can do is cringe.
Sure, we can try to argue. We can explain in the utmost rational terms why this is a bad idea. We can physically grab their arm and shake the bean from it.
Yet, if they are intent on sticking the bean up the nose, up the nose it will go. There’s nothing you can do to stop it. Pure and simple.
I’m sure you run into them all the time. You’re in a room and someone with power has decided to do something that just doesn’t make sense. You’ve tried logic. You’ve tried rational discourse. Yet, they are intent on doing this crazy thing.
Beans and noses.
We have beans. We have a nose.
They must be united.
Time and time again, I come across situations where I think, “OMG! They are trying to stick beans up their nose!” It explains what’s happening and what I should do next.
The only thing I can do in a beans-and-noses situation is wait. Wait until the bean is in its final resting place. Then, with a calmness typically reserved by yoga instructors, I can turn the nose owner and ask, “So, how is that working for you? Did it do everything you’d hoped?”
Of course, if they answer they enjoyed it and it was wonderful, then they are not someone I can relate to or help in any way.
However, if having that bean deep in their nasal passages doesn’t meet the very high expectations they’d had, I can now start talking alternative approaches to reaching those expectations. This is now when I can do the work they asked me to do.
Often, when I see an oncoming beans-and-noses scenario unfolding before me, I’ll ask about those expectations. “How will you know if it’s successful? What will life be like once the bean is firmly implanted?”
Maybe, by talking about the outcome, they might see alternative ways of achieving it that won’t result in the misery that comes from the otherwise inevitable nasal-based legume implantation experience. They might realize they have choices before they commit the act.
That only works half the time. The other half, the bean starts its wayward journey.
That’s when I move on. I decide I can’t be of further help and go take my skills, experience, and knowledge to others. Others that aren’t about to stick beans up their noses. There are plenty of those. And it’s much less frustrating for everyone involved.
This piece was originally published in 2011.