Unless you look in the mirror and are greeted by a distorted Picasso-esque image of yourself, it’s likely that you’ll see two ears and one mouth. By my reckoning, that’s double the power to listen than it is to talk.
Let’s face it though, all too often in business we’re faced with those for whom there’s no greater joy than that derived from hearing their own voice – regardless of whether what they’re saying has any meaning or not.
With a long career in the IT sector, it’s fair to say that I’ve learnt some valuable lessons along the way and, I hope, improved how I operate as a consequence.
Indeed, my role today as a client director is something that I can only do with the arsenal of experience that I’ve acquired along the way, reassuringly there to support and aid me. Is this a role I could have done at the outset of my career? I very much doubt it.
And whilst I’m not nudging retirement quite yet – despite what some colleagues may believe – I do have the benefit of objectively recognising the skills required to work with both internal and external stakeholders, identifying and alleviating pressures and nurturing the very best out of every business relationship. Let me share some of those…
I think it’s fair to say that back when I started, there was something of the Wild West in the IT sector. Honesty wasn’t always high on the agenda and if someone could get away with a misdemeanour then they might well try and do so. That simply doesn’t cut it any longer – and rightly so. If you’re not operating with honesty and integrity, then allow me to show you the door.
Also make sure you do what you said you’d do at the outset. Don’t ever over-promise, but always strive to over-deliver. You don’t want to set yourself up for a fall and this is something that comes with experience – knowing how to strike this balance can prove vital to successful client relationships.
Meet your clients on common ground. The ability to mirror their personality can pay dividends, so if you find yourself chatting to a particularly friendly contact, exude a similar level of friendliness but remain cautious of allowing this to creep too far. Likewise, if a contact is a relatively closed book and takes a blunt approach to business conversations, then avoid idle chit-chat about your plans for the weekend – it simply wont fly with them.
Integrate with your client but avoid going native. There’s huge benefit to be reaped by being an extension of your client’s team as you’re able to bring an outsider’s view whilst avoiding the corporate baggage that so often creeps in for those on the inside. However, again there’s a balance to be struck here and you should avoid compromising your own company’s values, as well as your own, by becoming too entrenched in the client’s culture.
Be inquisitive, but respectful and NEVER, ever get drawn in to gossip. There’s a lot to be said for getting to truly know a client, but this needs to be managed with care and judgement. Some relationships hit it off from the outset, others take time so don’t take it too personally if you’re not instantly best buddies – indeed, you may never be so, but this is work so don’t sweat it.
Be brave – ask the questions that will provoke and challenge… and which will, ultimately raise the bar. Being devil’s advocate isn’t a bad thing if it enables greater understanding and in doing so drives value and growth for the client.
I’ll conclude with my opening point. If you want to succeed in business, indeed if you specifically want to succeed in the IT sector, then the above points will serve you well. There are, no doubt, countless others that you could throw into the mix as well. However, whether it’s these that I’ve identified or others that I’ve failed to, you’ll never successfully embrace any of this guidance if you fail to listen; truly listen, take on board and digest what your client is saying. Repeat it back if necessary and don’t be afraid of a pause whilst you process what you’ve heard. If nothing else, take a quick look in the mirror before every client interaction and remember what it is you see: two ears and one mouth – don’t forget that!