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The walls within: working with defenses against otherness

Online Conference 5-11 July 2021

Organizational Role analysis by telephone the client I met only once

Like many - if not most - of my consulting colleagues, I am working with clients more and more over the telephone. This is largely due to the advent of executive coaching and the increasingly complicated nature of peoples' professional and personal lives. These phone sessions supplement face to face work and generally take place when clients are traveling or are otherwise too busy. While work can be accomplished, it is still considered a compromise. In a sense, it is a 'holding action' until the consultant and client can meet again. For three years, in contrast this norm, I have been conducting an organizational role consultation by phone with a client I have only met once. This meeting took place over a year after we had begun our work. Before then, despite my suggestions that we work face to face, my client would not make herself available to do so. Citing too little time, too much distance, or too much work, she communicated to me strongly that she preferred working by phone. Since this was an unprecedented professional experience, I sought out ways to better understand this case in particular and the possibilities of doing consultancy over the phone in general. This paper is a study of the specific dynamics, restrictions and advantages of work by telephone that may also occur when one does a combination of face to face and phone work with a client. My working hypothesis is that working exclusively by phone does change the way we work, how we undertake our interventions, and how we develop an understanding of our clients and our professional selves. I will briefly summarize the consultation by describing my client and the course of our work. In the next two sections (Hypotheses About My Client; Intervention Strategies), I ask 'What does this preference to work by phone tell me about my client and how does that insight guide me in working with her?. I conclude with reflections on the professional challenges and limitations of this work.