Think Before You Speak
If you know me at all, you may think this title goes against a lot of what I believe in. I am an improvisation actor, and improv is all about spontaneous responses. So you may make an assumption that I am, for the exact opposite,…not thinking before you speak. The trick with improvisation is there is a lot of preparation that goes into being able to respond spontaneously in an appropriate manner. The preparation allows you to open your mind and react quickly when performing. Thinking does happen. It just happens beforehand, and if necessary you can draw out the response quickly. I bring this up because in my last blog, The iTunes Impact on Requirements Analysis, I apparently had a lapse in judgment. There was a sentence where maybe I did not think fully before I wrote. Perhaps something was not thought through completely. And I definitely was not expecting the reaction I received.
Here is the background. I threw in a comment about an urban legend related to Pink Floyd’s album Dark Side of the Moon. I was using the legend as a small example to explain a point. One reader, knowing a lot about the farce this legend is, basically stopped reading or believing in the message I was trying to convey in the blog. In the comments the reader took time to explain in detail the truth about the legend. I hit a ‘nerve’ with the reader; one I did not intend or expect to hit. In hindsight it was not the best example to use. When I was writing I did not think it was a big deal. It was just a situation that I figured a majority of people would know about. The example was not even the main point of my blog. As a blogger I know my audience at a high level. For the most part, I know the people reading my blogs are in one of two categories. They are interested in business analysis or they are my mother. Besides my mother, I just don’t have the opportunity to know all of you intimately. Because of this it is hard for me to know what things will get each individual hung up to the point where they miss the message being delivered.
You, on the other hand, have it easier. You have the luxury of being able to get to know your stakeholders extremely well. One of the critical steps you need to do and prepare for when speaking to or writing something for others is to know your audience. The reason for knowing your audience is to help you determine the best approach to take in order to meet the objective set for the particular situation. What is the objective of writing an email to someone? Why are you meeting with them? Why are you presenting something to a large group? Is it for informational purposes or do you need the team or individual to take action? Do you need them to make a decision or buy into the message you are delivering?
Whatever the objective, you need to consider what will block someone from listening to your message. Here are a couple of common reasons people stop listening.
Grammar and Spelling
Many people are part of a secret society known as the Grammar and Spelling Correction Society. I think they employ more officers than all the law enforcement agencies around the world. You have probably bumped into one or more of them or you may be an officer. They consistently correct your grammar and point out spelling mistakes. In one-on-one conversations they will interrupt you to correct your word choice. If you are giving a presentation you may not be interrupted, but if they see something incorrect on the presentation slide they will begin to focus on the mistake and will be thinking about the error. This is why I always start off presentations stating that if I use the whiteboard or flip chart I can’t be held accountable for spelling mistakes due to these tools not having a built-in spell-check feature. Another way to guard against this is by employing one of the officers. Have them proof your work and correct the errors. I hope the BA Times staff has read through this blog and made some corrections!
Examples and scenarios are a great way to explain a point. It helps people connect the message to a possible situation. The problem arises for some people when they try to think through the example and get caught up in arguing the potential of that example really happening. There has to be a society for these people as well! If they can’t figure out how an example can actually happen, they shut down. When I work with someone that does this I do one of two things. If I have time to prepare I think through my example and make sure it could actually happen in reality, this way the person can connect the dots and get my message.
If I am in an ad hoc conversation with no time to prepare I go overboard stating that this is just an example and I have not thought if it could actually happen. I ask them if they are OK with me going forward knowing that. This helps to stop them from thinking about the reality of the example and keeps them focused on my message.
In both situations, you should see a pattern. I acknowledge the potential scenarios that may block the person from listening. There must be some reason why people stop listening to your messages. Feel free to share with the community in the comments below. Regardless of the reason, you need to understand why someone may stop listening and either acknowledge it or prepare to avoid it.
All the best,
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