Managing Client Expectations
One of the single biggest destroyers of relationships, both personal and professional, is a breakdown in communication. Communication, the art of transferring a concept from one person to another, has been the cornerstone that has allowed our species to crawl out of the swamps, develop medical breakthroughs, undertake huge architectural endeavours and, ultimately, put people in space. In contrast, it can be said a lack of communication and mutual understanding at a cultural level has lead to some of the largest and most devastating events in human history.
Understanding the Basics
That’s a rather heavy intro, you may be thinking, though I think it’s important to understand the basics of the topic before putting it into practical use. By starting at the very basic level, you may develop a better understanding of why things can fall apart and take the appropriate steps to ensure they do not.
To put this into a business context; one of the single biggest problems for relationships I have experienced is with client expectation of the product, or service we’re providing them. I’ve often discovered, often much later than I’d care to admit, that the client and I have left the initial pitch with a very different understanding of what they’re paying for and what we are being contracted to provide.
Overcoming Communication Breakdown
It might seem obvious, but I’ve discovered one of the easiest ways to overcome a breakdown of communication is to communicate what was communicated at every opportunity and then communicate that communication. Reiterate what was discussed; write it down, refer to it in correspondence and, ultimately, provide a detailed breakdown of the communication you think took place. Be advised, of course, communication isn’t just about the verbal transfer of information, it also refers to written conversation that can, just as easily, be misunderstood by either party.
George Bernard Shaw
Ensure you’re speaking the same language
Remember, communication related issues are not restricted to speaking, reading and writing the same ethnic language but also refers to industry language, cultural colloquialism and lines of education. Keep in mind your field of expertise is unlikely to be the same as your clients. That is, after all, probably why they’ve come to speak with you in the first place. In the IT world, it’s easy for us to assume that everyone knows how the internet works, what an IP address is, how to use PHP or what marketing terms like PPC or COA, etc, are. Chances are, though, your client won’t know what these things are. In the same way we probably don’t know a lot about their chosen profession. To avoid generating communication barriers based on industry misunderstanding, keep your verbal and written communication simple, descriptive and free of abbreviations. Don’t assume mutual understanding; take the time to define things.
Cool. So now what?
There is no simple solution to the problem of cultural communication misunderstanding. If there were any ‘wise words of wisdom’ I could offer up, I think they would be “acknowledging the potential for misunderstanding exists and taking efforts to reduce its impact, are the first steps to healthy, open communication.”