Choose listening instead of talking

There is a great quote that rings true for me,

“Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply.”
- Stephen Covey

One of the hardest lessons I’ve had to learn was to shut up. We think we know everything. We even think we know what the person is going to say next. I had been working in the Web Development Industry for so long, I thought I had seen it all. It turns out that my years of experience were my biggest disadvantage. I started making assumptions about projects and quickly categorizing them into well known buckets. “Oh, you make furniture? Yeah, we did a furniture rental site a while back, we can make a furniture website.” “You sell products online? No problem, we’ve done a lot of eCommerce websites.” At some point I had stopped listening. I got too comfortable and the websites I built were starting to fail. I realized that if I didn’t change how I built websites, I would soon be out of business.

You have to build websites for the right reasons. When you find yourself taking on any website project and just cranking them out as fast as you can, you start to get numb. You stop paying attention to details. You become the Web Developer that you never wanted to be. I knew this wasn’t sustainable, so I started to take a hard look at not only the projects I was working on, but also the type of client I wanted to work with. At this time projects were getting away from us. They were literally unravelling at the end. Everything had to be evaluated, especially the website building process. I tracked the issues I was having to the begining of the relationship. The first client contact, the first meeting. Reviewing my notes, it was easy to see where I had messed up. There were huge pieces of the clients business that I didn’t follow up on. Yes, I was there at the meeting, but I was so focused on getting the project started, that I didn’t listen. I missed asking what was unique and special about that business. No wonder the websites were failing.

In a previous article I wrote that we should have Alignment first, expectations second. In that article I outlined a plan to create the opportunity to listen better to your client. Because this piece wasn’t a part of my process, I found out that I wasn’t listening, so I wasn’t asking the right questions. This was a huge discovery. Not only did it allow me to really get to know the client and their business, it gave the client the opportunity to be heard. For a lot of clients, their business is their life and they want to share and tell that story. By me not giving them that opportunity, it created a sense of resentment and confusion. Essentially, I was inferring to the client that I knew more about their busienss than they did. No wonder projects were going south.

5 Ways to listen better to your web development clients

  1. Create the moment. Set aside at least two hours for them to talk. Whether it is on the phone or in person, just get them talking.
  2. Do your research. Don’t assume you know everything about the client and their industry. There may be a great story that sets them apart from others in their industry that you can leverage.
  3. Prepare questions. Don’t send a list of questions to the client ahead of time. From your research, ask specific questions that will help you build the website, like, “How do you make money?” “How do you currently get your clients?” These will help you create a website that performs better.
  4. Include them. After you are all done asking your questions, send the client your notes. I use a mind map to put down the answers. Clients find it interesting and fun to look at.
  5. Refer back. As you are building out the site, consistently refer to the conversations where you discussed certain items or even better refer to the notes. This will give the client the opportunity give more clarity on an issue or make changes if needed.

Listening is a skill that I still work hard at every day. I often catch myself interupting and then will sit back and be quiet. One thing I learned is to let the quiet in. Like white space in a drawing, people feel the blank space in conversation and want to fill it. Typically, this is when I get the best information from my clients. They want to talk about their business. They need to talk about their business. It all just comes out and then right then, at that moment, the relationship has changed. We both get why we are there.

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