Sometimes when I am talking to a client, I ask questions they make think are irrelevant to the topic at hand.  Part of the reason for these question is that for me, I use the information about how a client feels about a project as part of the overall design of what we’re doing.  This may seem silly to some, but I think the way a project is perceived is as important as all the little details that together make the whole.

For example, in order to meet a client’s ultimate goal, knowing what they expect, what their vision for the project is,  and their motivation behind it makes it much easier to craft a solution that meets these more subtle needs.  It’s getting something as straightforward and seemingly unemotional, like a contract, to meet the humans that stand behind the relationship at hand.  Specifically, for an event like Podcamp, we try to make sure there’s enough structure to make people comfortable and have a sense of what’s going to happen, but not so much that people feel unwelcome,  or like they are at a formal meeting.  In part, this is to create an atmosphere where learning and sharing are at the heart, and people are open to new ideas, rather than in a more formal atmosphere, where people are less likely to be persuaded and step out of their own pre-conceived positions.  This makes learning people centered as much as idea centered.

When was the last time you really listened to your co-workers?  Not just to the words, but to the intonations and meaning behind those words?  How much more difficult is this if the communication is entirely in writing?  When will a few minutes on the phone give you more “side” information about emotion and true position on things than 15 emails back and forth ever will?

It’s tricky in a world that has become ever faster to make the time to talk to others and to listen to not only the words and stories they tell, but how they are told, and what the underlying story or meaning might be.  How much context and true understanding are we losing if we’re spending that phone time also drafting emails, checking calendars, and playing games?

It’s amazing what a few minutes in someone’s presence or even listening to them will tell you.  And it’s amazing how much confusion a simple conversation can clear up, if we spend the time actually listening and hearing what the other person has to say.  It requires being present, and clearing away the constant noise in the background.

It’s not easy, but I promise, it can be worth it, and end up actually saving you time that would otherwise be spent trying to figure out what someone really meant in that email.   Don’t forget the phone as one of those social media tools it’s still okay to use.