Active Listening - Eliminating the Trend of Solutioning Before Understanding

More than anything, clients want to feel like their needs matter and their problems are important.  And indeed, they are! Client’s needs should be the driving force behind every project. However, two problems can arise when a consultant is trying to solution our clients’ problems.  The first one is that it is tempting to jump in before the client is done describing the issue to offer our wisdom from what we’ve seen before or what we know we could do to help them. The words aren’t even out of their mouth and we already have an optimal solution!  How is that possible when we haven’t asked a single follow-up question? The second problem is failing to get to the root of the issue. So often the issue that the client begins to describe doesn’t actually get to the core of the problem they are trying to solve.  If we don’t ask follow-up questions, help the client think through their real needs, and get to the root of the problem, we miss a chance to find the best and most innovative solution for them!

Technologists live in a world of problem solvers and independent thinkers, and that is to our benefit.  However, often we are solutioning the problems that we perceive or assume instead of taking the time to understand the actual issues and use cases that face our clients.  Our failure is not in our intelligence or ability to innovate, our failure is in our ability to listen. Active listening changes all of that because it takes the focus off of what I have to offer and puts the focus on what my client really needs.  Active listening requires us to not only hear the words that the client is saying, but to take the time to understand the meaning and intent behind them. When we understand the real problems facing our clients, we will be able to provide solutions that cater to their needs and ultimately leave them more satisfied.

Active listening changes the way we interact with clients because it takes the focus off of us and what we have to offer and puts the focus on the client and their needs.  How can we do this?

  1. Don’t have a solution ready before you walk into a meeting.  Go in with an open mind to really hear what the client has to say.
  2. When the client is talking, listen - you may even want to take notes!  Stop thinking ahead to what you want to say or the solutions you have to offer.
  3. Try to understand the person sitting in front of you and the point of view that they have towards the problem at hand.
  4. Ask questions, but not leading questions!  Ask real questions to help understand the use cases surrounding the issue.
  5. Don’t just listen to the words that the client is saying, but try to understand the whole concept.
  6. Restate your understanding of the problem to the client. Ask them if they agree that you’ve understood it.
  7. Don’t offer a solution right away.  Take some time to think through what you heard and consider different options.

A company whose consultants actively listen to their clients will be set apart.  Understanding and meeting a client’s real needs will lead to simpler and more innovative solutions.  Any company can offer a solution, but a client feels important when they are offered a customized solution that uniquely fixes their problem.  Active listening is the key to happy and satisfied customers.