Make Your Consulting Proposals More Compelling

Author : Matt Kohut and John Neffinger
Published: June 20, 2017

Compelling People: The Hidden Qualities That Make Us Influential offers practical advice on understanding how others judge you, and helping your best qualities shine through. The book is based on cutting-edge social science research and the authors’ own experience with Fortune 500 executives, Members of Congress, and Nobel Prize winners. The bottom line is that we judge each other on two principle factors: strength and warmth. Authors Matt Kohut and John Neffinger guide readers through successful strategies to exude both factors, and make excellent impressions on others.

In this interview, authors Matt Kohut and John Neffinger discuss techniques that consultants can use to become more effective leaders and more compelling in giving proposals.

1. In your book, Compelling People, you state that strength and warmth are the two principle factors behind how an encounter is perceived. How do you describe the characteristics of each?

Strength is a person’s capacity to make things happen with abilities and force of will. When people project strength, they command our respect. Warmth is the sense that a person shares our feelings, interests, and view of the world. When people project warmth, we like and support them. When we first meet people, we make strength and warmth judgments based on nonverbal cues as well as the language they use.

2. Is a leader able to incorporate strength and warmth together within one encounter?

Every situation is different -- it's easy to imagine scenarios that call for just strength or just warmth -- but it is absolutely possible for a leader to project both strength and warmth within one encounter under the right circumstances. A first meeting with a new team is often that opportunity. The thing to keep in mind is that this usually happens at different times in the same encounter, not at once. In a meeting with a new team, for instance, it is important to establish a sense of shared concerns or interests (warmth) early so people know that you want what they want. Within that same talk, you also want to make sure they understand that you are determined and mean business (strength). Also remember that strength and warmth are conveyed both through what you say and how you say it with nonverbal cues. The balance varies greatly according to the person and the context.

3. As consultants, arguably, most of us place strength above warmth during encounters. We do this to prove the power of our ideas in order to sell proposals. What are some specific gestures that we can incorporate to also demonstrate warmth?

The most important way of expressing warmth in a consulting engagement is by making it clear that you understand your client's world and share his or her concerns and interests. An important place to start before you're in a room pitching new ideas is by asking questions and listening. Learn as much as you can about how the client sees the big picture. When you are actually pitching new ideas, use what you've learned to set the context. By demonstrating that you know how your client sees things, you will position your good ideas as solutions that flow from a shared understanding.

4. What is the most important piece of advice you can give to consultants for making proposals?

Proposals offer an opportunity to project both strength and warmth. Most of us typically think about a proposal in terms of establishing credentials and pitching new ideas, both of which speak to strength. Don't overlook the importance of demonstrating that you understand the client's context. That's how to project warmth in a proposal: show that you have taken the time to understand the client's perspective.

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