Posted: April 27, 2011
With tears in her eyes, my 7-year-old daughter sought me out the other night. She was crying and gripping the fingers of her left hand gently. Through her sob-shrouded words, I was able to piece together a few details and figure out that she had been slightly injured while playing with her older brother. She and I have been through this sort of thing countless times, and I pretty much have the same reaction: I give her a big hug and a kiss, take a look at the ‘injury’ (she was fine), put a little ice on it and she goes back to playing.
But no matter how many times this type of thing happens, she’s not able to get to the healing process (the ice and perhaps a band-aid) until I spend a significant amount of time listening to HOW this happened.
So I listened (something about a cartwheel, a wooden sword and a folding chair), and I found myself wondering why we couldn’t just put the ice on and start the healing process sooner? Why was it so important for her to tell me all these details? Was she trying to make sure that I learned something from the experience? Was she looking for swift justice? I don’t think so. I think she just wanted to know that I really CARED about her and about this particular incident. Once she knew that I cared, she was able to move on to the solution.
It’s the same way with clients, and I’ve seen this pattern year after year. For example, we were recently conducting stakeholder interviews (a standard part of our strategy phase) at a community college on the east coast. Over the course of two and a half days, we spoke to 7 groups of stakeholders, all of whom knew as well as we did how bad their website is. It had actually been documented just how ineffective their site is in a 30 page strategy document that we authored for them two years ago.
The stakeholders knew that we were coming in to help make the site better, not to find out what was wrong with the current version of their site. We were simply on campus to talk about how they want to be able to use the site in the future and what their goals are for the new and improved website. I even kicked off every meeting reminding the stakeholders that we were well aware of the current site’s challenges but were not here to talk about that. We were here to discuss a bright future.
But regardless of this, once I gave them the floor, group after group (approximately 50 people in all) quickly jumped into telling me just how bad the current website is. They couldn’t NOT talk about it.
Then it hit me. I remembered an old adage that my friend Bruce Turkel had recently quoted in a blog article: “People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.”
These people knew we were there to help them. They knew that we do great work. They knew about our experience and our client list. They knew about our team members’ many years in this industry. But they didn’t yet know us well enough to know how much we CARED or even if we cared at all.
And so I listened. Really listened. I let them talk about their frustrations. I let them get it all out. I took notes so that I wouldn’t forget the years of frustration they’ve faced trying to publish to their website. The frustration they’ve had trying to find things on the site. The phone calls from frustrated prospective students who, for the life of them, could not find something they should have been able to easily find on the website.
And then it opened up. As soon as they knew that I had heard them … not just listened to them but HEARD them … felt their pain, understood their struggles … once they knew how much I CARED, they turned a corner and were able to focus on the future. Focus on moving past the pain. Focus on letting us help them make things better. Just like my little girl. They were ready to get that ice on their finger.