My team has been looking for ways to make sure we understand what our business stakeholders really want from each software feature that we develop. We felt that we had to solve a basic communication problem but didn’t know how to approach that.
At San Francisco Agile 2012, I participated in a session led by Declan Whelan called “Releasing Your Team’s Intelligent Energy with ‘Pull’ Conversations.” Declan explained what he has learned from Juice: The Power of Conversation, from Juice, Inc. A “pull” conversation has emotional engagement. In this type of conversation, we pull the other party into our own reality, then reflect the other party’s reality and feelings back to them. Bringing the realities together is key. Respect and trust are key to get the directness we need, along with the right level of inquiry.
A participant in a pull conversation embodies these thoughts: “I fit, I’m clear, I’m supported, I’m valued, I’m inspired.” The situation and the impact of the conversation contribute to the usefulness of the conversation. A conversation about bugs might actually be a conversation about wishes.
An important takeaway for me was the idea that changing your language can change your behavior. It’s all about intent. Declan gave examples from his personal life as well. The intent of what you say is important. “When you do this, I feel …” can be a manipulative ploy if used the wrong way. We need to genuinely step into the other person’s world, see her reality, and reflect it back in our own words. We also need to invite the other person into our world, help her see our own reality, and ask her to reflect back what she’s understood.
If I want to engage a stakeholder in a productive conversation to understand what she desires from a software feature, I need to find the fit, create clarity, support that person to succeed, and make her feel valued and inspired. People also need to feel safe and to have a sense of belonging, in order to have a productive conversation. When you encounter difficulties in communicating with someone, ask yourself if that person has some unmet need and if that person could be making assumptions that make her feel threatened. When you flush out hidden assumptions, you can learn what your customers really want.
One way testers and business analysts add value is knowing good questions to ask. “Pull” conversations help us establish common ground with our stakeholders. The Juice, Inc. experts note that this helps us discover a bigger reality and align on long-term corrections. After engaging in the exercises that Declan facilitated at the SF Agile conference, I’m starting to put these techniques into practice and get a more complete understanding of our customers’ desires.