Part of the value of teams is that everyone thinks differently.

That may not seem like a good thing at times, especially when a large portion of your workday has been spent completely rephrasing a proposal so the designer gets it, and then rephrasing it again so the client gets it.

Another time it’s important to remember this truth is when the fog rolls in.

Remember those times? You may be a little more than halfway through a project, or quite well along, and all that well-edited copy starts to look like wet cement… or that meticulously planned online sign-up process collapses like a tangle of cooked spaghetti.

That’s the point, in the arts, when projects tend to stop dead, and fade, never to be completed. In business, it’s when clients seem most likely to get cold feet, or exhibit other signs of internal (or external) panic.

I have a name for those times, and that’s a good topic for another post. This time, I want to share some thoughts about the power—the calming, recharging power—of listening.

In a project management or liaison role, it’s easy to believe you’re supposed to already know and understand all aspects of a project. Thank goodness that’s not true! The real talent is the openness to understanding, and the willingness to ask questions until you do.

Here’s an example conversation between a [highly right-brained] Graphic Designer and a Project Manager:

GD: I haven’t worked on that layout yet. And speaking of that, it doesn’t really make sense to me to do it that way.

PM: Oh! I thought we had that worked out!

GD: But it’s changed now. It doesn’t make sense.

PM: Which part doesn’t make sense?

GD: The whole thing. It’s all wrong.

[PM’s hands go clammy]

PM: It’s all wrong?

GD: Well, yeah. I’m not sure how to explain it.

PM: How about roughing up a quick sketch of how you think it should work?

GD: OK. Check with me in a half hour.

[after half an hour]

PM: So, tell me what this is.

GD: See? When we changed the online purchase process, the old image didn’t fit anymore. This image works better.

See how “It’s all wrong” became changing a single image? The highly talented designer just needed someone to bounce his concerns off of. Clarifying conversations like that can take longer. It’s tempting to succumb to the clock and insist that the designer should just complete the task and quit being a prima donna. But for a truly successful project, the conversation needs to be allowed to go on until both parties understand their part in the project, as well as their next steps.

Little concerns can become huge obstacles if they aren’t clarified. And little concerns can combine with the individual concerns of other team members to create a seemingly-impassable barrier. Little concerns can be task related, socially related, or personally related, but they all have the capacity to interfere with productivity if they aren’t managed.

Incidentally, you’re not off the hook if you are working on your own. Just try to recognize that seemingly-impassable barrier for what it probably is: A bottleneck of unanswered questions… and incidentally, also a sign that you are stretching yourself—becoming a better artist, manager, programmer, parent, whatever.

Ask questions, of yourself and others. And keep asking questions—press through—until the fog lifts, and the way forward is clear.

 

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