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The Importance of Listening to Your Client

Earlier this year, I read a business book called What Got You Here Won’t Get You There, by Marshall Goldsmith, who, as a corporate coach, takes executives through what he calls “360 reviews,” evaluating people from peer feedback and identifying bad habits and traits that hinder growth. He points out that these traits are often in place prior to the achievement of success; indeed, that many are often successful despite having some significant bad habits, yet continued success is hindered by them. I found myself wondering which of the 20 bad habits I didn’t have, but was relieved when Goldsmith assures his readers that most people tend to only really have 2 of them in a significant sense.

Early in the book, he relays an anecdote of a very successful consultant who ultimately loses a contract because he didn’t stop to listen to his potential client during their first meeting. His over confidence in his expertise and lack of humility led him to do all the talking, leaving the client alienated and lacking in any confidence in him. This story stuck with me because I identified that this kind of pitfall was quite likely in my own line of work- we have to really listen to our clients in order for any of our expertise to even make sense or be used. We can’t just exist in a vacuum; we must listen just as much as we must talk. This leads me to a post I read the other day by David Sherwin, which he titled Strolling to Conclusions. Here’s a quote:

“Roads lead to alleys. Alleys lead to dead ends. And you can’t see them all before you’ve entered into a client engagement—no matter how much of a “design expert” you say you are.
“I’ve done a ton of logos, so this project is a cinch for me. In the client meeting, I’ll share with them some design themes I’ve been exploring when drawing up my estimate. Just some riffing, really… nothing too serious that I can’t back out of when the paperwork is finalized… It’ll just help me cinch the gig.”
What a bad habit. Sure, we get excited about the possibility of a new project and start sharing initial impressions that come to mind. But sharing your opinion like that—off the cuff—can be very damaging for the project you’re looking to start, your long-term relationship, and the design profession in general. It belies an assumption that you are more important than the gazillions of people out there that form the basis of your client’s design problem.”

Sherwin is pointing out just what Goldsmith warns about- overconfidence that leads to not listening. This is certainly an area where I need to grow.

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