How design thinking helped me to become a better communicator

How design thinking helped me to become a better communicator

A lot of good things happened to me this year and I achieved a lot already:

A few people asked me about my “secret” and what I do that makes me successful. Without having the success in mind, I focus on consistency and empathy. You ask why consistency? When it is about learning new things or about sharing knowledge for example, you have to do in a consistent way. Otherwise, you will never finish what you started.

But I am also constantly questioning the status quo and how I perform. If you work in sales with different customers and a lot of different people, there are times when you are not so successful or your management would expect more from you. That is natural, it happens to everyone. Then you may start asking yourself questions like:

  • Why does this happen to me?
  • Why are others more successful than me?
  • Are my colleagues better than me?
  • What is that more successful people are doing?
  • I had the perfect solution match for my customer/colleague. Why didn’t they go for it?

You start doubting yourself, which is okay. Just make sure you do you what you always did: do your job in a consistent way. And let’s assume for now that you do a wonderful job in general. 😉 What else can you do to change your situation?

In my case it was empathy!

So, am I saying that consistency and empathy advanced my career? YES!

Design Thinking

It was about 18 months ago when I have been introduced to design thinking.

Design Thinking is a human-centered process and is a way to creatively solve problems by seeking out the unknown, the different and not so obvious causes of problems. It is about understanding the person (the human) better. There are different ways to structure and understand customers and this process (workshop) mostly starts with emphathizing with someone.

Design Thinking: Empathize, Define, Ideate, Prototype, Test

But a design thinking workshop takes hours or even days to complete. What did I do?

I finally understood that I sometimes assumed too much and didn’t pay enough attention to things or what people in a meeting said. I changed my way of communication to a more passive role, where I listen more and talk later (and less), because it is very important that you even catch the small things. I try to completely understand what the people in front of the camera or in a meeting room say. This is empathy. Let me give you an example.

I’m Selling Hammers, You Look Like a Nail

In sales, we often assume that the lack of nails means game over. Nothing to sell here, turn off the lights and close the door. It’s about not wasting your precious time. It’s called salesforce efficiency.

We salespeople tend to see the world through our own frames of reference. And we also believe that we paid enough attention during our several meetings with the customer to come to the conclusion that it is impossible to sell or that there is no opportunity. Like I said, we also assume a lot of things.

But do we really understand what the customer wants and did we ask the right questions? Does the customer really understand what they want/need?

  • Do you know which picture the customer wants to hang with the nail?
  • What about this picture is important to the customer?
  • What if the customer wants to use a hanging wire to put the picture on the wall instead of using a nail only?
  • Do we know that the picture should hang on the wall, or do we assume it?
  • Is it a wooden wall? Is it concrete? Is it even a picture the customer tries to hang on the wall?
  • Should it be hanging down from the ceiling instead of the wall?
  • Is the customer sure that they need a nail and not a screw instead?
  • Can the customer answer all of your questions?

Let’s take a step back: How important is the hammer now?

The Johari Window

During a design thinking workshop the coach asked me about the Johari window, which I have never heard of before.

The Johari window is a technique designed to help people better understand their relationship with themselves and others. This model is based on two ideas- trust can be acquired by revealing information about you to others and learning yourselves from their feedbacks. Each person is represented by the Johari model through four quadrants or window pane. Each four window panes signifies personal information, feelings, motivation and whether that information is known or unknown to oneself or others in four viewpoints.

Remember the questions above when I doubted myself from time to time? The Johari window is a great model that can help you to better understand yourself, how people see you and to improve your self-awareness.

Let me be honest here, I didn’t do this exercise. At least not for me and about me. I did it about “VMware” and used the Johari window more in a business way:

Johari Window VMware

This allowed me to better understand the relationship between the customer and VMware. To fill the quadrants, you have to ask your customer the right questions. To ask the right questions, you have to listen and emphathize first. 

But most of the times it is hard to get the answers you are looking for, right? Your manager, your friend or your customer is just not providing the information you are looking for.

Become a better negotiator

Asking questions has a lot to do with negotiating. If we stop committing to assumptions, see them as hypotheses, we can use the negotiation to test them. Negotiation in sales is seen as a battle, it’s not a friendly and relaxed conversation. What if you can use the negotiations as a process of discovery to uncover new information?

This led me to the book “Never Split The Difference” from Chriss Voss:

Never Split the Difference: Negotiating as if Your Life Depended on It -  Voss, Chris, Raz, Tahl - Amazon.de: Bücher

What are my takeaways from this book?

It is not what you say, it is how you say it. Be positive and have also a positive voice when you talk to your customer. People like relaxed and good-natured people. 😉

Again, don’t assume. If the customer has a pain or a problem, try to rephrase (repeat) it and say things like:

  • I don’t fully understand. What is it that you are trying to say? What about it is upsetting you?
  • How will we know when we are on track or successful?

Do not ask “why”!

Don’t start with “why” questions. Yes, I know, Simon Sinek said “start with the why”. 😀

If you start asking questions that start with “why” your counterpart could become defensive, because “why” is often understood as an accusation.

To figure out the “why”, you can easily use “how” and “what” questions:

  • What is it that brought us into this situation?
  • How can we solve this problem?
  • What do you hope to achieve by/with…?
  • What is the objective?
  • How do you intend to…?
  • How would you…?

When I started using these kind of questions my conversation got more meaningful and everyone could use their invested time more efficient, because you are coming faster to a conclusion/understanding.

It is also important to understand that we are not looking for a “yes” when asking questions. A “yes” does not give you a lot of information, which would allow you to ask follow-up questions.

Let us be more emotional and less rational in our conversation. In the end we are all still human beings! 🙂

Leave a comment to let me know if this was helpful to you.