I remember my grandfather telling me in our native Czech language when I was a young boy, “Son, God gave you two ears and one mouth. Use them in proportion.” I didn’t always take his advice; but as I got older (and a little wiser) I recognized the wisdom in his words.
Fast forward to a project for which I provided project management oversight. One of the women in our Project Management Office (PMO) would often attend the sessions that I was facilitating. I was working with the business team to develop the initial set of functional requirements for their new system. She attended to help me out, and also to learn the business of the organization.
She HATED my facilitation methods. She HATED that I let the business staff overly discuss (her words, not mine) the various concepts for the new system. She would get so impatient at times that she would interrupt a speaker and badger him or her into giving quicker responses. She would interrupt me, the facilitator, to get her own questions out to the group.
Invariably, as we moved forward with the process, we would need to come back to those areas where she forced quick responses. We would need to re-discuss them, and even change requirements as further explanation and discussion was provided.
Why did I move more slowly with this group? Because I had worked with exactly the same type of business staff in similar organizations, and understood that their comfort was in discussing and understanding ideas thoroughly before agreeing. It was not that I allowed discussion without end. My experience with similar groups taught me to guide their discussions to natural conclusions, while giving them the opportunity to reflect. We never missed a deadline. Everyone was heard. Everyone believed in the requirements that we had carefully developed together.
My PMO peer, on the other hand, with no such background, expected this group of neophyte requirements developers to be much more experienced in the process. She was very bright, and expected the business staff to catch on as quickly as she had. In her impatience, she did not use her ears and mouth in proportion. She forced answers before staff were ready to give them. She created unneeded rework. And worst of all, she alienated the very staff on whom we would depend throughout the project.
In her haste, she made waste (no, that’s not one of grandpa’s). But in my method of patiently listening twice as much as I spoke, I developed a business team of individuals who could defend their decisions in developing the system requirements.
Where do so many consultants go wrong? It’s in situations like this. They talk more than they listen. They interrupt. A true consultant listens to his clients and guides them to the correct conclusions.
“Well-timed silence hath more eloquence than speech,” said Martin Farquhar Tupper, a 19th century writer. “God gave you two ears and one mouth. Use them in proportion,” said Grandpa.
[If you’re looking for an upbeat keynote speaker, an experienced seminar leader, an on-site project management coach, or an expert in project oversight and IV&V, you need look no further. Contact Merv to help guarantee your project delivery success.]
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