it is about listening

A meeting with a prospective client initiated this line of thought. As architects we need to listen to our clients; whether they’re right or wrong. Obvious right? However, it can be tempting to jump ahead in our minds to the place of our benefit and the place where we get to speak. Do you recall that place where we exert our will before we understand where the client wants to go? I am guilty as charged, but not this time.

I noticed this problem in speaking with a contractor with respect to this same client. The contractor had led me to this client and provided useful data, but was a bit resistant when it came to finding alternative ways to get the client to move forward because they were indecisive. The key here was listening to why they were indecisive. What brought them to this place? What was their real concern? What worries them is what we need to perceive and find answers if we want projects to proceed. In this case my response was to work in an untraditional way to answer the question I “heard” them ask. It was not the exact approach I take, but I understood their point.

Clients are not always able to explicitly verbalize their real concern, but it’s an important skill for all professionals to learn if they wish to help make projects happen. Most times I will repeat back what I thought I heard to confirm if I understood them. Oftentimes I will ask the same question in several ways.

As design and construction professionals we know more about construction and more about design than most of our clients. We likely know what could make their project soar given the freedom. However, it’s their show. I was taught an important lesson years ago from another architect; it has worked well for me. Listen to the client. Not just their words, but listen to what they’re not saying. Get into their heads and figure out what is their biggest concern; what keeps them up at night so to speak. If we can address those issues first, most clients will give us more creative latitude with the areas that mean more to us.

I admit clients will often take us on a wild goose chase and at times drive us crazy. At times they think they want something that we know is a bad idea. In rare instances, we might have to walk away. However, before we get too nervous with their unusual requests, pause, take time to listen. You might be surprised what you hear.

Yes, I did my research for this client. Many wondered why I asked the questions I did. Most of them wanted to answer a different question. Too bad I couldn’t find the exact answers I thought I could find this time. Maybe it’s because no one was listening to past clients who wanted the same information.

photos are from krossbow’s photostream on Flickr (used under the Creative Common License)

it is about listening

2 thoughts on “it is about listening

  1. Lee, a great reminder of the importance of listening. As a matter of fact, I’m going to make it a point to apply this principle today..listen more, strive to be heard less. It’s gonna be hard…

    Also, interesting insight about rephrasing the question in different ways- a very useful tactic. I’ve been researching interviewing techniques recently and one way interviewers, surveys, etc, draw us out is by asking the same question in different ways and seeing if the two answers concur. I think the CIA uses this technique when they interrogate suspected terrorists/detainees as well. I wonder what else they could teach us about listening…pretty sure water-boarding a client wouldn’t go over too well…but hey! It isn’t torture. They might not mind.

    1. Thanks. It was just on my mind after a few frustrating conversations. In fact my follow up conversations with many contractors and a few architects led to the same linear path that I was trying to avoid. No one is listening to the question being asked. They always want to answer a different question.

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