As we kick off 2020, many of us consider what we need to learn in the year ahead. As data professionals, what one skill can we identify that will pay career dividends through the year ahead?
- Putting yourself in the other’s shoes is a practice that can pay business and career dividends when done regularly.
- When providing information and analysis, ensure you know what your stakeholder needs to know.
- Stay focused on solving their business problem to the best of your ability, rather than arguing for constraints.
- Figure out the best way to package the information, keeping the needs of the audience in mind, so they can hear what you are trying to communicate.
Practice putting yourself in the other’s shoes.
Sound too vague or impractical? It isn’t. Here are three practical questions to ask yourself, to implement this resolution and reap the benefits.
If you were in their shoes, what would you need to know?
Oftentimes, stakeholders will come forward with a specific request. Rather than running with it, as data professionals it’s important to take a step back and ask, what is the need that this request means to fulfill? As a data expert, you have knowledge your stakeholder doesn’t have, and by understanding the need behind the request, you may be able to recommend more effective or efficient means of addressing it. Clarify with the stakeholder: what is the business question you are trying to answer? What will be done with the information – how will it be used to affect the business? Is speed or accuracy the greater priority in this situation? And then proceed accordingly, or recommend a different course of action to consider.
The benefits – Not only do you position yourself as a trusted professional (an excellent skill to boost any career), but you can also avoid the rework, overwork, or dissatisfaction that can result when what you deliver does not meet the stakeholder’s real need (regardless of what they asked for).
If you were in their shoes, what solutions would help the cause?
In a perfect world, every business problem would have a clear solution. When a request goes beyond the available solutions, the result can be frustration and anxiety. As a data professional, you must understand the constraints and be able to explain them in a reasonable way. You must also be able to propose solutions – work-arounds, alternatives, or partial answers – that can advance the journey towards a solution, even if they can’t provide it fully. If you can do the above while empathizing with the difficult situation your stakeholder may be in, all the better.
The benefits – Tempering bad news with rational explanations (“Here’s where we are limited and here’s why…”) and possible alternatives (“…but we may be able to try …”) can go along way towards diffusing tense situations, pre-empting objections or emotional reactions, and keeping the communication positive and productive. Empathy puts you all on the same team, working together towards a mutually beneficial solution, rather than at cross-purposes.
If you were in their shoes, how would you need to hear it?
When you prepare to communicate with an audience, the quality of information is only one piece of the communication puzzle. At least as important is how the audience needs to hear it. Think about what they are seeking to learn from the communication. You may be fascinated with the process of deriving business intelligence, but an executive in a time crunch might just want the bottom line. The answer may seem obvious to you, but some audiences might need to be convinced. By seeing it from the audience’s perspective, you can tailor your messaging so that it is more effective.
The benefits – Tailoring to your audience allows you to anticipate and avoid objections, minimize misunderstanding, prepare adequately, and demonstrate your value. It also helps you gain credibility with your audience and increase the likelihood that your work with lead to action being taken.
Far from being impractical, the ability to put yourself in another’s shoes is an essential business competency. Not only does it benefit the stakeholder, but it benefits you and your career. Resolve to advance this skill throughout 2020 and reap the rewards.