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Agile Development

Listening to Understand, Not to Save the World

Healthcare Journey Caring Hands

One of the values in the Manifesto for Agile Software Development is “Individuals and Interactions over Processes and Tools”. People who embrace the agile mindset tend to put a heavy emphasis on people and teams.  We dream about having cohesive, happy teams who can tackle any challenge.  But what happens when we run into challenges?

Imagine the following scenario: you are a leader on a team.  Generally speaking, the group works well together but there’s one individual whose behavior has changed and it’s causing challenges.  Perhaps their attitude isn’t as positive, perhaps they are disrespectful to the team.  What can you do?

My number one piece of advice is to talk with them.  But the purpose of this conversation isn’t to tell them that they’re a problem, it’s not to be a superhero and fix all their problems.  The purpose is to listen.

Start by always assuming positive intent.  It’s highly unlikely the individual is purposely trying to have a negative impact on the team.  Until you understand the person, you can’t understand the reason for their behavior.  You never know what someone else is going through.  By having a conversation and truly listening, they may identify the challenge and come up with ideas to address it.

It doesn’t have to be complicated.  You can start out with something as simple as “how are you doing?”  This open-ended question gives them the opportunity to share their feelings.  Listen carefully to the response, with your whole being.  You should listen not only for what’s said, but for what’s unsaid, for the underlying emotion.  Give them a chance to share their challenges without interruption.

Once the individual has shared, ask how you can help, “What I can do to support you?” is a great question.  It’s a question that shows you care and gives them the opportunity to tell you what will be most useful to them.  You’re not forcing them to accept your help, but you’re showing your willingness to provide support.

Building relationships with the people on your team will help make these conversations easier.  They’ll be more willing to open up and tell them what’s truly bothering them, which will lead to better outcomes for the team.

Next time you notice that someone isn’t acting like their normal self, offer to listen. You can’t – and shouldn’t – try to solve all of their problems, but you’d be amazed how big an impact listening with compassion can have.  Try it.

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Jennifer Rostal

Jennifer is a senior project manager at Perficient. She is a Certified Team Coach and Scrum Foundations Educator with the Scrum Alliance and the Perficient Agile Community founder. Her passion is helping customers, colleagues, and teams build their agile mindsets, relationships, and skills through coaching, training, and mentoring.

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