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When you’re gathering requirements for a solution to an existing or new business process, it’s critical that you’re a good listener. It can take users a l-o-n-g time to get to the critical information required for a complete solution!

A 2018 survey conducted by Microsoft of Canadian media consumption found that the average attention span had fallen to eight seconds, down from twelve in the year 2000. We now have a shorter attention span than goldfish, the study found.

In addition to shrinking attention spans, active listening is hard because we’re often consumed with ourselves, says Hal Gregersen, executive director of the MIT Leadership Center. “It’s really hard to walk into a conversation without my agenda being written on my forehead and your agenda written on yours,” he says. “Unfortunately with the hectic, chaotic, complicated pace of work life today, people are even more committed to getting their own agenda accomplished.”

Key to your success when you are gathering requirements is to set your agenda aside and really listen. Here are some strategies to become a better listener:

Be curious not just polite

Facilitating a requirements session? Have an open mind and be curious about the process. Don’t assume that you know everything. One of the hardest parts of possessing ‘experience’ is that you assume the proverbial peg will always fit the same hole. Each organization has variations that will cause the solution to be different. Identifying those early in the process will lead to a design that meets the requirements without rework late in the design process when it will impact timeline and budget.

Turn off your agenda and ask questions

Quiet your mind and focus on what is being said, not your agenda.  Ask questions, don’t assume.  Asking questions creates a safe space for the participants to give you the information.  Don’t assume you have all the answers. If you end a session without learning any new information, you weren’t really listening.

Strive for a 2:1 ratio

The ratio of listening to talking should be 2x more listening then talking.

Repeat back what you heard

Repeat back to the speaker what you heard them say. If the speaker agrees that what you heard is what he or she intended to say, you can move on. If not, the speaker needs to reword their statement until the listener really does understand.

Wait until someone is finished talking until you respond

The most difficult component of effective listening is waiting for a period at the end of a sentence before formulating a reply, says Leslie Shore, author of Listen to Succeed.

If you are busy formulating your response you are not listening.

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