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When you are working with a client there are a lot things out of your control. Such as, scope of work, technology stack, governance rules and guidelines, whether or not the client communicates well. That last item, client communication can be, I feel, one of the biggest obstacles to having a happy, satisfied and repeat client. So what do you do when there is a lack of communication both from and within the client side of the project?
Quid Pro Quo
Quid Pro Quo is Latin for, “something for something” or “this for that”. There are times where you need to offer something to the client in order to get something back, something that you really need. I am not saying that you should withhold work so that the client gives you answers. What I am saying is partner with other teams that are working for your client. If there is another team that has the answers you are looking for or can help shoulder some of the load, reach out and offer to help them with something you know they need. Of course, this is much easier if there are relationships being built across teams. When you are in meetings, pay attention to who else is there and who is giving answers and directions on how something should be accomplished. You can always reach out to that person and ask follow-up questions or ask about something else you are needing help on. Remember, while most people are more than happy to help someone else, it makes it a little easier when there is some reciprocity.
LOTS of Communication
If you have ever been in any type of relationship you know how important communication can be. Whether it is friends, a significant other, or your parents, if you don’t communicate you are heading for trouble. This is especially true if you are not in the same location as the person you are communicating with. As a consultant you may travel to the client’s place of business and meet them face-to-face. Or, one of the requirements of the contract is to be permanently located in their office. I know that a lot of the people in my office never travel to the client site, so communication is paramount.
There are 3 different groups you need to always make sure you are communicating with
The Client –
This is the person ultimately paying you for the incredible and awesome work you are doing. It is hard to deliver what a client is wanting if you never communicate with them. You have to talk to them and find out what they are needing. You need to communicate with them in order to make sure what you understand you are delivering is what they understand you are delivering. You need to communicate to them to refine and add to the work being delivered. You need to communicate with them if something is going wrong with the project. In short, you need to constantly be in a conversation with the client. Note, I said conversation. This means both of you are talking and listening. If you are the only one talking, then you need to encourage the client to talk back to you. If they don’t talk, you won’t know if you are providing what they need. And if the client is doing all the talking, you are going to end up delivering something that under performs or that can’t be delivered in the timeframe specified by the client. The other half of the conversation is listening. If neither you nor the client is listening then nothing gets accomplished. You are unsatisfied and frustrated with the work you are doing. And more importantly, the client is unsatisfied.
The Team –
Whether you are the only one from your office or not working on a project, there is still some kind of team. There is someone else that is helping you complete the job the client has hired you for. We strive to work in an agile environment and that dictates lots of communication, especially on the team level. But even if you are not on an agile team, there is still a need for team communication. You need to let the team know what you are working on. You need to let the team know you are struggling with something. You need to communicate with the team in order to make sure you aren’t duplicating work. If a team doesn’t communicate, then it is not a team.
Your Management –
In my office I answer to a wonderful manager. She lets me conduct and lead my team in the way I see fit. However, if I fail to communicate with her, she will quickly start to insert herself more and more into what is going on with my team. Your management isn’t there in order to tell you everything you should do and when you should do it. If that was the case, why did they need to hire you? No, your management is there as an asset to you. They are your biggest advocate and your greatest source of knowledge. In the vast majority of cases, your management has years of experience. When you run into an issue and need help, they have the experience to guide you in your next steps. I know that in my case, I was running into some client challenges and I needed direction from a couple of different managers. We worked together as a team in order to overcome the challenge. Communicating with your management helps you and helps them. You don’t want to be the cause of your management not knowing what is going on with a client.
In line with communicating to the client, your team and your management is the necessity to follow-up. If you say you are going to do something, or if you are asked to do something, it doesn’t end there. Being open and transparent by following up helps with the communication flow and with developing a relationship with the people you work with. Nothing tears down a work environment quicker than the perception that you cannot be counted on to do something. Following up enables everyone to know if something is being done, if more needs to be done or if something is stopping something from being done.
Don’t Take It Personal
When communicating with various people in your career, there will be times where things become heated. Passions can run high, patience can run short and tempers can flair. Now, I know your emotions never get the best of you, but for everyone else, things can happen. There may have been a personal issue at home before they came into the office. Traffic was horrible and they were late. They are under pressure to deliver to the client and they are running into a long list of challenges. You never know what a person is going through at any given moment. When someone gets frustrated, impatient, or angry, remember that they are human and it isn’t personal. You were just unfortunate enough to be the person they were talking to at the time.
Communication is extremely important and is a skill that should be developed by everyone. Especially if you are a consultant. Communicating with other teams, your client, your team and management can make your day so much easier. Remember, communication isn’t just talking it is also listening.
Have you had experiences where you weren’t in an environment with good communication? How did you tackle that challenge? Where you able to help it improve? Sound off in the comments below and let us know how you learned or helped others learn to communicate better.