Have you noticed how people come out of meetings and they question if someone that they were meeting with understood them or was telling the truth? I hear this often after meetings around negotiation when trying to find common ground or negotiating the way forward on projects. Our “bullshit” senses are triggered when we notice an inconsistency between what is spoken and what is done.
In business today people seem to be busier than ever before. With technology so many more interactions take place on a daily basis than at a lifetime ago. People find themselves in many situations daily where people are making requests and offers to them. Due thought is not always given to each request and the committed response is often based on a mood or a perceived ‘right’ answer just to move on to the next interaction. What people are not doing is thinking about the consequences of these spoken answers. How much time, effort and trust it costs each time the requester and recipient leave with different interpretations and then perform inconsistently with each others’ expectations.
Michel de Montaigne wrote over 400 years ago -
‘The true mirror of our discourse is the course of our lives.’
What we really believe and think at the time is truly expressed in the actions we perform afterward. The good news from this is that humans have been consistent at this for well over 400 years so we can count on it continuing into the future and it will be worth our efforts to improve our skills in this regard, as it will greatly increase the efficiency with which we can execute projects and negotiate agreements aligned with both parties concerns.
Recently I was in a conversation where a client was very dissatisfied about a particular product delivery and they wanted to quit the development project. The supplier also liked the idea of quitting as the fixed price scope had crept out of sight and costs were at three times anticipated with an open punch list still to be contended with. As both parties were about to close and agree to walk away the supplier mentioned that they could have the components uninstalled in an hour, to which the client suddenly gasped out “why do you want to do that?”. While this startled the supplier it quickly became apparent that the spoken commitment by the client was very different from the actions that would have taken place had the conversation ended before the suppliers declaration of action.
This conversation ended well because the supplier declared the consequential action of the request, which avoided what would have been a very tense, and likely costly situation had the supplier just acted as he thought he had agreed.
Here are 5 tips to try in future engagements to build trust, coordination and efficiency:
- Listen more – the more people speak the more consistent they will speak in terms of their true concerns
- Repeat the request – when making a request ask the person you have made the request to, to tell you what they heard and/or what actions they plan to take.
- Ask more questions – about the importance, value, action to be taken from the counterparts perspective
- Always make an assessment of the moods – lookout for moods of resigned, despair, indifference, overwhelmed
- Check-in informally – truths are often revealed in different settings and surroundings
There is a lot of posturing and politics in the marketplace, but one thing you can be certain of is that people act for what they truly care about. You don’t see people doing anything they do not care for. So always listen for the action.This article was contributed by Guy Ralfe, co-founder of Active Garage and co-author of the upcoming book ProjectManagementTweets. You can follow Guy on Twitter at gralfe.