Effective listening skills yield great requirements
The better you are at listening, the more people will want to tell you.
If you’ve ever watched The Actor’s Studio, you’ve heard over and over that the most important skill in acting is reflective listening. A marriage counselor will tell you that step one in solving your problems is to listen. Consulting 101 will reiterate the importance of active listening. Presentation trainers stress good listening skills. Dale Carnegie – listening yet again. Sonar technician. There’s a pattern.
Listening is not enough, however – just being a good listener is important, but not sufficient to assure success. Good listening skills are critical to interaction, compromise, partnership, discovery, and almost every significant component of working with others. And requirements management depends upon having the effective listening skills to learn from other people.
Interviewing is the primary requirements gathering process in any project. Getting feedback from users and other stakeholders is important to validating and prioritizing requirements. Communicating with people is critical to success in managing requirements. And listening is at least half of communicating.
With good listening skills, you not only hear better – people say more. Apply these tips to become a better listener.
Top five ways to be a better listener
- Use active listening. This is my desert-island* listening skill. When we confirm actively that what we just heard is what the other person just said, we avoid a lot of mistakes – and it encourages that person to tell us more. It also tells our speaker that we are “getting it” and she isn’t wasting her time. This is also known as reflective listening.
- Have attentive body language. Smile. Make eye contact (not creepy stalker eye contact). Square your body so that you’re facing whoever your talking with. Don’t fidget or look impatient. Don’t check your watch (if you have an important meeting – tell the person before you start talking that you need to check the time – or that you’ve set an alarm on your phone for five minutes before you have to leave). And whatever you do – don’t answer the phone if someone calls. Nothing sends a stronger “what you are saying is important to me” message than sending your phone to voicemail without checking who the caller is.
- Ask questions. Get clarifications to statements. Ask the person why. There are several questioning techniques we’ve talked about before, and they help us with eliciting requirements. They also give feedback to the speaker that we are interested in what they are saying. Anyone who’s lectured or presented to a room of dead fish knows how tough it can be to not get any questions.
- 100% focus. Don’t multi-task when you’re listening to someone. No instant-messaging or answering emails. Don’t get distracted by the urgent matter that just came up. We can reschedule the meeting for when we aren’t overwhelmed, or we can take a couple minutes to compose ourselves, focus on the meeting/interview, and relax. We can review our notes about what we want to talk about before we go in – and get our head in the game. If we’re going to talk to Tony for an hour – it’s Tony’s hour.
- Use non-verbal attends. Nod your head, validate what you hear with a quick glance to the expert in the room, clap your hands, grab a pen and scrawl down some notes. Any reaction to a particular point made by the person speaking is a non-verbal attend. If you give the person this positive, genuine feedback, they will open up, become more comfortable, and talk more. And therefore tell you more.
*In an earlier post, we talked about our desert-island requirements management skill – communication.