I’ve been working on a change initiative for a long time now, slowly trying to bring different parties, decision makers, influencers together. About 6 months ago, we had a strong ‘coalition of the willing’ and thought we had a decision made. Then it all fell apart, like Humpty Dumpty. It has been unclear why and as we seek to piece Humpty Dumpty together again.
At the moment it appears like assumptions are one of the problems. We assumed that everyone understood that having data in a database makes reporting easier, faster, and less resource intensive than combing through word and pdf documents. We assumed everyone in the coalition was talking to their peers, influencing them in the way we needed.
Assumptions are a problem until we state them. We all make them; our brains are wired to do so. They help us make sense of the world. This is one of the reasons the practice of active listening advocates to communicate back what you’ve heard. The practice helps draw out assumptions the listener has made with the information heard, but also the assumptions the one communicating has made in speaking.
When talking with customers about projects, we do this by stating ‘our understanding of the project’. Most of the time, we get the overview correct, but almost always we miss a nuance or a detail incorrect. And sometimes we are completely wrong.
By stating our understanding, we call out things we’ve heard, but also things we have not. It’s often what is left out that is important to listen for. What are we not hearing? Sometimes we miss a critical detail in our understanding that changes the fortune of the project.
Call out your assumptions. State your understanding. Go into the detail. This is all part of the, oh so critical, problem definition stage of our work. One more reason it is important not to try this alone.