I just got home after travelling all over the globe (well, not really all over, but my trip was far and multinational) to meet users and collect feedback. During the trip, I was accompanied by a few of my colleagues of different roles and disciplines. That day, we were having a discussion following a specific feedback given to us. “This is not exactly what he said,” one colleague said to another. I agreed.
It is not the first time I’ve observed people getting different impressions once exposed to the same content. Same input, different interpretations, various output. This phenomenon is common to any type of communication: business conversation, social involvement, romantic relationship, family matters, mentorship etc. — no matter the relationship type — gaps in communication end up in inconvenience at least and serious trouble at most.
Getting users’ feedback is essential for designing and building great products that better meet their needs. However, the ‘getting’ part is not that straightforward. Hearing the words and understand the language are basic yet not enough to have an effective conversation. We can hear and understand what is being said, and at the same time, we can completely miss the point. We lose many parts of the input while our brain is in the act of processing it. Additionally, we translate some parts of the input into something completely different. Consequently, there’s a huge gap between the things said and what we take out of it.
“When people talk, listen completely. Most people never listen.”
― Ernest Hemingway
During the practice to become a personal life coach, I’ve been working quite hard to develop my effective listening skills. Being a personal coach means comprehending the story the coaching customer is telling; it means grasping the basic idea, the root cause of the issues about which people are talking in order to guide them through the process of overcoming their barriers and achieving growth. Getting the wrong picture of these situations is unacceptable and may break trust. Same goes with users’ feedback. After all, we’re here to supply solutions for people’s needs and solve some problems.
That said, people often aren’t very good at articulating their needs, saying what bothers them or what they’re missing. It’s up to us to get the accurate information of their authentic intention.
Through the process of improving my communication skills, I’ve realized it’s a matter of constant training. One key element of communication skills is effective listening (aka mindful listening). Listening is an active action. It requires some effort. We’re neither educated nor trained to be effective listeners; however, we can develop this skill. And it means the world when it comes to communicating with people.