Pareto Listening

Sometimes, we’re so eager to have an opinion that we skip the step of working to understand.”
Seth Godin

I’m currently reading “Power Listening – Mastering the Most Critical Business Skill of All” by Bernard Ferrari. In it, the author speaks of applying the Pareto Principle to listening. In other words, spending 80% of the time listening and only 20% talking.

It’s such an important trait for all technical consultants, yet perhaps somewhat uncommon unfortunately. As the “hired gun,” there is a tendency to start firing from both barrels verbally as soon as you meet with the customer. Afterall, they have hired you for the insights that you will hopefully provide. Sometimes the customer even expects this from you.

But the most insightful insights are the ones that are most relevant to the customer. They have to be relevant in terminology, desired outcomes, roles/responsibilities, respective capabilities, etc, etc. The technical stuff that the consultant is hired for is just the means to an end. The technical solution can only work in combination with the people and process. In fact the technical solution is only an adjunct to the people and process. The customer knows their people and process far better than you ever will, even if you have past experience working with this customer.

The exact same thing is true for OSS integrators. The integrator’s team often has a “we know best” perspective at the start of a project, to their detriment I believe. The customer’s team actually hold most of the situational knowledge, so they should be the ones doing most of the talking. They will be using the OSS long after the integration team has gone, so it has to do what the customer needs, not what the integrators assume they need.

The best consultants and integrators are the ones that ask great questions and listen intently.

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