Thriving in the space of service — for consultants, coaches, facilitators, business partners…

Benjamin P. Taylor
3 min readJan 26, 2022

Have you ever been asked to help, and ended up feeling abused and misused? Why did it go that way?

Whether you’re part of a bunch of #consultants dealing with a #management issue, a coach, mentor, a friend, an HR or Finance Business Partner, or leading a radical #innovation process to help them to be fit for the #future — why does it end so disappointingly, so often?

There is a systemic pull for your good advice to… just be ignored.

The likelihood is that you’ll end up frustrated and disappointed: ‘if only they’d listened to me!’

And your ‘client’ will end up thinking: ‘they seemed pretty good, but their advice just didn’t land’.


It’s because any time you seek to advise someone, two conditions pertain:

1- they know more than you do!

about their situation, the nuances, the issues, their desires and preferences and the history

2- you are vulnerable

as someone coming in as the ‘expert helper’, it might seem that you have more power. But they’ve asked you in, they can let you go at any time, and *they* will be the one judging your success or failure.

Faced with this vulnerability, there is an instant instinctive pull which tends to take people in one of two directions.

Not always, not every time, but persistently and with great reliability, ‘helpers’ assume one of two roles:


Cloaked with my great mantle of wisdom, I descend upon you and guarantee that, if you just follow my prescription, all will be well with your world…

(As long as your circumstances fit my mental schema, you’re capable of carrying it out, and you actually want what my prescription will give you!)

This is the defensiveness of power — storing up the excuse that the help didn’t work because ‘they just didn’t listen to me’.



“Always obedient to your grace’s will, I come to know your pleasure” says Angelo to the Duke in Measure for Measure.

In conditions of uncertainty and vulnerability — well, make yourself useful!

This is the defensiveness of powerlessness — storing up the excuse that the help didn’t work ‘even though I did everything they asked of me’.

Both of these modes try to deny the vulnerability of being a helper.

Both try to keep the superiority of the helper safe.

What’s the alternative? Well, join the RedQuadrant tool shed and find out! More, as they say, in the comments…

…but actually, the answer is to embrace the vulnerability.

Clearly state the facts: ‘I have some expertise that might help here. And you know your context better than I do. Let’s learn about your situation and options together, and see if you can get somewhere better’.

Notice that this stance *resists the urge to be of immediate value*.

It *prolongs* the vulnerability, it accentuates it.

This is what Barry Oshry calls ‘developing a co-learning relationship when you’re in the space of service’. And Peter Block calls ‘holding 50/50 responsibility’ in Flawless Consulting.

Barry Oshry — the Space of Service
Peter Block — Flawless Consulting

When have you been in the ‘space of service’? How did that work out for you?

If you’d like to join me in the RedQuadrant tool shed, click here.