This article was originally posted on October 25, 2010.

“Morse Telegraph Key” posted to Flickr by]

Last week, I came across an article that resonated with me because of things I see all the time as a consultant.

Many times, as consultants, we fall into traps that diminish our effectiveness. One of these that I saw very nicely represented in a blog article referencing a book called “Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die.”

The concept was simple: researchers performed an experiment with two groups of participants, tappers and listeners. Each tapper was required to listen to a song, then to tap out its rhythm to a listener who had to guess the song without hearing the melody. Even with the simplest of songs (e.g., “Happy Birthday to You”), the tappers expected the listeners to guess the song they were tapping 50% of the time. The listeners only guessed the songs right 2.5% of the time.

As a team of technology consultants working with clients, we have a melody in our heads. We’re working with technologies that we’re comfortable and experienced with, we are deeply vested in the Microsoft community (and jargon), and we have a consistent approach to how we approach engagements: implementations, migrations, training, architecture, etc.

Our clients don’t have our melody in their heads. They are just getting to know us, just learning to trust us, just orienting us to their business and how their teams work. On top of that, I find myself surprised by how often our clients’ team members are getting to know one another in their first meeting with us.

The post was a great reminder to me about the importance of:

  1. Spelling things out. Our clients don’t know the shorthand we use when we talk to one another, so we need to take extra care to ensure that our ideas come through clearly in our written and verbal interactions with clients.
  2. Listening more and investing extra effort in building trust with the client. We may understand their business problems by the time we’re engaged on a project together, but do we know what motivates all our stakeholders? Whether it’s financial incentives, prestige, or other things that provide individual motivation, we have to invest the time and listen to what our clients care about.

So, a note to myself for the next kickoff meeting, presentation, or design session: tap less and listen more.

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Project management, financial management, and knowledge management. Microsoft 365 aficionado, proud Sympraxian. Opinions and Philly attytood are my own.