Being a consultant can sometimes be awkward. You get to a client site, and you are expected to work with brand new people who you may have never met. These people do not know your skill-set, they’ve never seen your work or heard your reasoning, and in some cases they might be wondering why you’ve been brought in to help with their work.
Now, imagine going to a client site, and being 23 years old.
I recently was on a project where I was the youngest person on the team. Some teammates were a few years my elder, more were twice my age, and some had been in the industry longer than I have been alive. About a week into the project, my teammates asked how old I was. My answer elicited the response: “you’re just a child!”
I know I’m young, but a child I am not. Ignoring the unintentional slight, I realized that my age was going to have an effect on how I will be interacting with my teammates. They were not going to seriously consider any suggestion or argument that I may present just at my word; and honestly, why should they? They do not know my skill set, they’ve never seen my work or heard my reasoning, and they were probably wondering why they needed my help. What I did to overcome this is what I’ve always done, and what I believe everyone should do: present every thought in some form of a rational argument.
Throughout the next few weeks, I worked hard to understand the subject material and methodology we were using to gather requirements. With this base knowledge, I was able to speak to what we were doing in an informed manner. When I did speak, I always laid out the information in a form of an argument. The format was always a variation of “because of A, there is this problem B, which would be resolved by C.” Obviously, this is a shallow explanation, but the idea is that by stating my thoughts in this form, my teammates could see my train of thought, and know that every suggestion I made was based in some logic. This built my teammates’ confidence in my abilities, and lent me a stronger voice than I had at the beginning of the project.
Presenting your ideas in an argument should not be limited to just younger consultants. Really, everyone should have a reason for suggesting something, which they do, but sometimes people will not articulate them. Where this really helps younger consultants is when disputing with an older teammate. Because I had previously established a track record with my arguments, and presented other ones in conflict, it didn’t matter how many years I’ve been working. People listened to me, and if I had a more sound argument that day, me being 23 had no effect on my teammates judgment.