Distance and the Internal Consultant

Hugh MacDonald

Still fighting for your place at the table? Before you worry about where you sit, consider where you stand.

As a consultant or human resources partner working with an internal client, we have to make a decision about the distance we want to establish between ourselves, our client and the other people with whom we work. The possibilities include: personal, professionally close, professionally distant and detached.

The first distance we can choose is one that is close and personal. This is a common strategy for many one-on-one relationships with employees, close colleagues, one-up managers or when working with entrepreneurs and small business owners.

Similar to a personal relationship is the professionally close relationship, which is close but not personal. Instead, it’s polite and respectful. It is a common relationship distance for joint ventures and partnership agreements and for vendors and suppliers. As a test of whether you’ve established a personal or a professionally close relationship, consider this: If you only see the other party at the workplace or at formal events—such as receptions and business dinners—and if your social relationship doesn’t go beyond the occasional golf game or an afternoon ball game in the company box, it’s probably a professionally close relationship. If, on the other hand, you entertain at each other’s homes, go on fishing trips together and know the birthdays of each other’s kids, it’s probably personal. There is a subtle but important line separating the two.

A distant relationship is also polite and respectful, but it doesn’t involve any social contact outside the normal course of your business or organizational relationship. Given the codes of conduct of most major corporations today and the current regulatory climate, this is often the most appropriate distance for most business relationships.

Finally, a detached relationship is a very distant relationship. A typical example would be a routine contractual relationship managed with no need, or with a very infrequent need, for face-to-face contact. The situation where this is appropriate is one where relationship management is largely a matter of monitoring reports, dashboards or other metrics.

Want to know more? Check out www.hrmacdonaldtraining.ca.