Even though it may seem that the work of a consultant is about expertise, technical knowledge and foresight, the most important part of the job—I believe—is communication.
Everyone knows that it is important, but not everyone may understand just how much. It is present in trying to understand the customer’s needs, concisely letting the customer know how the solution works, or clearly communicating the added value of the project to even get it started!
In my experience, the most amount of wasted time I saw in any project was due to communication, whether it was 15 minutes of arguing in a meeting—just to realize that both sides wanted to do the same thing, only saying it in different words—or if it was days spent on functionality that, upon close inspection, was not even needed!
Very often we may pride ourselves on our experience and expertise—and it is useful to have it. However, it does not matter how smart and knowledgeable the consultant is, but how well can they deliver! Miscommunication is one of the greatest risks you will regularly encounter in a project which can affect that!
If you are giving the correct answer—but no one really understands or acts upon it—then it doesn’t matter how correct the message is. You may get the satisfaction of saying ‘I told you so’ (and even that is very rare), but the customer is not going to appreciate it either way. If they will terminate the project, in the grand scheme of things, it doesn’t really matter that you were right.
Know Who You’re Talking To
I see communication as the main point where a project can really crash. When a project doesn’t work out due to different needs, expectations or price—that’s okay. It saves pain on both sides, the customer and the consultant. It’s when the project has potential to succeed and fails, that is when it’s really painful. And in those cases, communication is usually at least partly to blame.
Unfortunately, without experiencing some kind of “failure to communicate”, we rarely understand just how important it is on a daily basis. Outside big presentations and demos, we often treat it as an afterthought.
Dangers of miscommunication are nothing new and there are volumes dedicated to nitpicking all of them. Whether it’d be in the:
- message (talking in terms too technical for a business person)
- medium (jittery zoom call where you understand every other word isn’t the best to communicate complex ideas)
- or culture (culture/language barriers, which must be worked around to get better results)
Goal of this short piece isn’t to tell you how to communicate, because A) I’m not that great at talking to give such advice anyway, B) such rules often change depending on context and time, and C) if you pay attention, you’ll likely know yourself, after few tries, whether you are communicating your thoughts clearly or not.
And if you’re not sure, that may be your first step to start—asking the other side, whether they understand you and get the message or not.