How to Get Your Stakeholders to Stop Repeating Themselves

Do you ever feel like your stakeholders keep repeating themselves? Would you like certain aspects of the elicitation process to go a little faster?

In this post, we’ll look at why even when we’re listening to our stakeholders, they might not think we’re really listening and find it necessary to repeat and clarify their important points. Then we’ll explore a simple conversation technique that will make your elicitation conversations more efficient.

To understand the issue, let’s look at a typical conversation a BA might have with a stakeholder at the beginning of a project.

Stakeholder: I’m really excited about this project. It’s going to make a big difference to our department – we are really struggling now with this confusing and inefficient software. 

BA: I understand. I’m excited too. Let’s talk about features. What’s the biggest problem you are facing now?

Stakeholder: I don’t think you are getting how significant this is. Right now we spend an average of an extra 5 or 10 minutes on the phone with every customer. This is going to make a huge difference to our department.

BA: I see. I want to help you solve that problem. I’d like to walk through how you are using the software today.

Stakeholder: Well OK, but I really want to be sure you see how important this is.

On the surface, the BA is doing the right thing – using different questions to clarify the problem to be solved and keeping the conversation focused. But when we read closely, we see that it’s difficult for the stakeholder to engage.

Why? Because they don’t feel heard.

It’s very likely that the BA is processing the information provided by the stakeholder, making notes about project benefits, and thinking through the impact of that information on the business case of the project. But the stakeholder doesn’t know any of that. The stakeholder can’t see what’s going on inside the BA’s head. They only hear the questions and vague confirmations such as “I see.”

One of the most powerful activities we can engage in during elicitation is active listening. Let’s look at the conversation again with a few small adjustments using the simple conversation technique of paraphrasing back what you heard.

Stakeholder: I’m really excited about this project. It’s going to make a big difference to our department – we are really struggling now with this confusing and inefficient software. 

BA:  I understand that the current software is confusing and inefficient and I can imagine how improving that will make a big difference to your department. Can you tell me more about that?

Stakeholder: Yes, well, you see right now we spend an average of an extra 5 or 10 minutes on the phone with every customer. 

BA: Wow! 5 or 10 minutes! That’s a long time. I can see why you are so excited about fixing this. If you don’t mind, I’d like to have you walk me through how you use the software today so I can better understand the problem we’re trying to solve here. Does that sound like a good idea?

Stakeholder: Yes, for sure. That sounds like a great idea. Let’s start here. This is the first screen our reps go to when answering the phone…

With just a few subtle adjustments – taking the time to confirm understanding by rephrasing what you heard in your own words – and you’ve got a much deeper level of engagement with your stakeholder. And, in my experience, a much more efficient elicitation process.

And this is not to say that I’ve always gotten this right. That couldn’t be further from the case. It’s really easy to fall into the trap of listening and understanding, but forgetting to listen actively by paraphrasing back what we heard. Even when we hear the right things, our stakeholders might not perceive us as “getting it.”

As one of my recent course participants said, she felt like she was saying again what she had already said – until she listened to her recorded conversation. She realized that her stakeholder didn’t perceive her that way at all and that she had plenty more opportunities to rephrase and clarify understanding to be sure they were both on the same page.

When you use this simple technique, you’ll also be planting seeds to cultivate a trusting relationship with this stakeholder. Because they know you “get it,” they implicitly begin to trust you and your role on the project. And trust creates even more efficiencies in the elicitation and requirements processes, not to mention a more positive working environment. It can be surprising that such small adjustments in our communication patterns can have such a significant impact, but I’ve seen it work time and time again.

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