Are you really hearing your client?

Quick—think about the last time you interacted with a client. It probably felt pretty straightforward. Your client tells you what they need, you talk about any details, and the conversation is done. I recently had an experience that reminded me that every client interaction comes with layers upon layers of assumptions that we often miss.

The other day I realized that my shiny new Pixel phone can’t run the app I use to adjust my hearing aids, so I couldn’t switch from the regular setting to the one for noisy environments. I called my audiologist’s office and the conversation went as follows:

Me to receptionist: My new phone won’t run my hearing aids’ app. Is there a remote control I can use to change the settings?
Receptionist: Sure. Come in tomorrow at noon and the audiologist can set up the remote for you.

When I met with the audiologist and she began telling me how I could use the remote control to send phone calls to my hearing aids, I realized that we had had a failure to communicate. What I wanted was a simple way to switch my hearing aids between two pre-set programs, but what I asked for was a hearing aid remote control—because that’s where I thought the solution lay. (It turns out my audiologist was able to reprogram a button on my ‘aids so I can toggle between the two settings manually… no remote needed!) Instead of explaining the details of my need, I asked the receptionist for what I thought would resolve the problem. She assumed that I knew what I wanted, so the only information that was passed along was my interest in a remote control device.

As I remind participants in my workshops, clients only ask you to do what they think you can do. They (we!) frame their request in a manner they think you can respond to rather than telling you the underlying problem. It’s always up to us to get at the question behind the question or we’ll wind up providing a great solution to the wrong problem.

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