I've always wanted No Kill Switch to be 50% tech + 50% leadership+mgmt blog. But it just doesn't work out like that. I'll tell you a secret - I publish regularly twice a week, which is quite often, but I never struggle with finding a topic for the next blog post, quite the contrary: I always have like 4-5 unfinished blog posts that just wait there to be finished. And everyday activities like meeting interesting people, composing solution blueprints, auditing standalone applications or even complex systems (yes, I do such stuff sometimes) & any kind of other project work bring me that much valuable "material" related to leadership+mgmt that there's barely any space for any tech post.

Like few days ago.

;-(

This time I was mainly an observer, watching someone else doing the hard part - in this case: discussing an approach for a future project with decisive people from the potential client company. Sitting in "the 2nd row" has one particular advantage: it's far easier to spot some things while not being a direct participant in the discussion. On this day it was very clear that my colleagues have made a terrible, fundamental (& still quite common ...) mistake: they didn't listen to what client was saying.

Actually for some time I am quite sensitive about that particular thing, because I've used to err in exactly the same way (hopefully I don't these days anymore, but you never know ...).

What does it mean that "they didn't listen"?

They've built such a vivid & convincing image of what's expected from us (what WE THINK the client wants to listen about, what WE THINK the client wants to achieve, what's the problem the client is facing IN OUR OPINION, etc.) that:

  • they didn't even consider confirming anything with the client
  • they've ignored any signals that could indicate that the client expects something different & they've misinterpreted everything that had left them any room for misinterpretation (as long as it had been "skewable" in a way that had matched their vision)

Why don't we listen sometimes?

The answer is simple: due to lack of humility.

Because our experience sometimes makes us over-confident ("I've seen everything, I've done everything. Gimme moaaaaarrr!"), especially when we try to identify whether something is a root cause of a problem or maybe just a manifestation of something hidden from us. Because we like to generalize things, classify them & wrap them in frameworks we know. That brings us back to our comfort zone, armed with the arsenal of already proven solutions, that in the end may not be adequate for this particular case, sadly.

What happens when we don't listen?

I don't know whether you agree or not, but based on my experience: it's far, far easier to find out that the other side is not listening to you than to realize that it's actually YOU that are not listening to your interlocutor(s). Yes, this is how EGO-thingie works. It's hard, because it requires a serious dose of humulity, openness & strict control over self-orientation. Just to remind you how important it is: how do you react when you find the other party not listening? In my case, I ...

  • ... get irritated (instantly)
  • ... find it a lack of respect (& whole conversation as a waste of time)
  • ... prefer to cut the discussion out over sincerely asking for an appropriate treatment

Obviously not listening may have more sensible reasons - one party may have difficulties with explaining (expressing) their reasons. Or they may have a limited view on the whole case (for instance - they may be totally unaware of the actual problem aka root cause). Or they may be focusing on HOW instead of WHAT. Or they may be very bad in structuring / concluding discussions, etc. Anyway, it doesn't mean that you should ignore / override them.

Bluntly speaking:

Sometimes it's far more important to know when you're supposed to STFU than to keep the endless flow of words going from your mouth.

Listen.

Ask correct questions.
Clarify what's unclear, make sure you're "on the same page".
Ask for confirmation, rephrase if needed.
Make sure that you use shared, ubiquitous language.
Focus on actual goals, don't try to overfit the solutions you already know.