Do you have a listening problem? I know I did.
Listening is an intriguing subject. Intriguing because it seems so easy but in reality, it's difficult to accomplish. If not done properly, it can make or break a BA’s career.
As an analyst, listening to developers, project sponsors, customers and other project stakeholders is not optional; it’s a necessary prerequisite to capturing accurate and complete requirements.
One of the crucial first steps in improving your listening skills is understanding the typical obstacles to effective listening. Once you understand the reasons why you “tune off”, you can proactively guard against it.
1. Selective Listening - This happens when you only listen to what you want to hear. Everyone likes being right; it's easier for us to process information that conforms to our belief system. This is known as confirmation bias, which is said to have occurred when people seek out information that conforms to their existing opinions and reject contrary arguments. Once what the speaker is saying doesn’t conform to your world view, you tune out. Confirmation bias also happens when you listen with the objective of proving the other person wrong instead of listening to understand what they’re actually saying.
Solution: 9 times out of 10, you’ll find that confirmation bias is related to your desire to be right, stay in your knowledge comfort zone and possibly avoid the potential embarrassment that comes with withdrawing from a previously advocated belief. Try to engage respectfully with stakeholders even if they hold different points of view. Encourage the viewpoints of others with the intention of considering them and learning from them. Whether you agree with them or not is secondary. The objective is to listen to them and possibly empathize.
2. Emotions: Emotions are one of the biggest impediments to listening. Anger, joy, desperation, rejection, sadness, resentment and all sorts of strong emotions can distract even the most focused business analyst from what is being said. These emotions may arise from the project or your interactions with stakeholders. Emotions can cloud judgment and send the business analyst off to another planet entirely during the course of a meeting.
Solution: Step away from the situation and assess it objectively. Be the neutral third party. Don’t take issues personal. In the end, the objective of all stakeholder relations is the fulfillment of the business need. Also, a good sign of maturity is being able to control your emotions without letting them cloud your judgment.
3. Daydreaming: It’s possible to get lost in your own world while the other person is speaking. What the speaker is saying may sound boring or familiar, but resist the temptation of retreating into the confines of your mind. From personal experience, I can say it can be quite embarrassing if the speaker has to bring you back to the present.
Solution: If you find yourself drifting off during the course of a meeting, actively call yourself back into the present. Doing this consciously over time, will improve your listening pattern. As with everything else, the more you practise staying in the moment and recalling yourself when you’re at risk of drifting, the better you’ll listen.
4. Rehearsing Responses - Rehearsing what you want to say in response to what the speaker has said is another major cause of poor listening. The debate could go on and on in your mind, distracting you from listening to the speaker until you eventually get the chance to speak.
Solution: If you find yourself doing this, consciously force yourself to listen to the speaker and delay crafting your response till after he’s done. One way to do this is to note down the main points of your response without rehearsing it over and over in your mind.
5. Debating - Whenever you argue with someone over an issue, your priority shifts from listening to him or her to proving your point. If your aim is to truly understand someone and be as objective as possible, debating is probably not the best way to go.
Solution: Not all arguments can be won; pick your fights wisely. Most of the things we argue over aren’t always as significant as we think they are, especially after we've taken some time to evaluate them objectively. It’s important not to get carried away by your perceptions, bias and beliefs when engaging with stakeholders. The idea is not to prove that you’re right but to arrive at a solution that all parties can live with.
There are more obstacles to listening you may want to check out.
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