It's good to be a flexible consultant, but not too flexible.
Those that are flexible can change consulting styles from session to session or even within a session, depending on the situation. Yet, it’s still important to have that stiff backbone. A good consultant reminds me of those bendy rulers we all had in elementary school: they’re flexible and can be used for a multitude of other things, but when it comes down to doing their job, being a tool for measurement, they’re stick straight. On the other hand, I, the over-compliant, people-pleaser consultant, am like putty. For a time, putty can be molded into anything, but if enough time passes, it’ll morph back into the useless glob it used to be.
Okay, to compare myself to a “useless glob” seems a little harsh, but I think there is some insightful understanding in the analogy. Within a session, a people-pleaser consultant will let the client mold them in any way they see fit, often in a way that holds their writing style together. Maybe for a short while, long enough to turn in an assignment, that mold holds true. But now we wait. Soon, there’s another essay that needs to be written, and the client looks back in his toolbox for the handy dandy putty that worked so well for him last time, but it’s not that same anymore. It can’t be used like it was. Sure, it can be molded again, but it will never stick. If we focus too much on giving our clients what they want in the moment, if we are too flexible, we don’t end up giving them anything at all. They don’t learn.
I came to realize this when I had a client come in for a required session. He told me he needed his paper edited, and as always, I let it slide. I didn’t have the intentions of editing his paper, but to keep everyone happy, there was no need to mention this foreign phenomenon of “collaboration”. But that was exactly what I ended up doing: editing his entire paper. I felt useless; he sat on his phone as I awkwardly vocalized the corrections I was making. It was the first time I hadn’t been satisfied with the help I had given, and it was obviously because I hadn’t asserted myself as a consultant. If I had, the session could have gone so many different ways and ended as a satisfying experience for both of us. It was hard place that I found myself in: the tug-of-war between loyalty to my peers and loyalty to the academic system. A lot of the time, I let myself be pulled toward my peers, but I found that if I could meet them with just enough resistance, I could create a perfect balance.
So, to all my putty people out there, practice taking some authority. Assert yourself as a tutor, but conduct yourself as a peer.
Find your perfect balance. 😊