Thursday, 9 June 2016

The Art of Not Listening

"What was that? You want to know more about my day and all the fun I had with your daughter's teacher telling me how she wasn't LISTENING to anything she was being told...."

Yes. I am in trouble again for not listening. Totally my fault this time, I got distracted and missed a very important part of what my wife was saying and never quite caught up.

The talking to herself in the third person is an coping strategy mostly to give me another chance to join the conversation as well as being the equivalent of counting to ten before exploding- I can be challenging to live with.

Every time this happens, I am usually doing something else. Whilst I can have many threads spinning away in the back ground, I can only ever have one being actively done - so in checking the post and listening to my wife's day, I inevitably drop something. And it's usually the wrong one.

To prove the world is in balance and everything has a positive spin, I am going to explain how and why not listening was one of the better things I had to learn to do as a Scrum Master:

1)  Trust - the detail of what is being delivered is my team's responsibility and I trust them to make the right choices. I have learned over time to disconnect from the detail of what they are talking about and only dive in there is something they need to observe or think about. I like to think of it as filtering and reacting to key words or phrases (more about that in a minute).

2) Non Verbal clues - being involved in the conversation means my attention, running on that single thread is consumed by that alone. I am missing body language from individuals (who's bored, distracted, confused, agitated, annoyed) . This might be revealing how they are sitting, fidgeting, facial expressions - all of which need you to observe and process. These are cues for a good facilitator to jump in, to draw out something that might help us as a group.

3) Who's not speaking - some people are quiet but that does not mean they don't have something to say. Most teams have a dominant character or 2 and it can be all too easy for them to take over. Watching who is not speaking, along with body language allows you to pull them in and give another voice to the conversation.

4) Highlighting issues - I have learned to filter and listen for key phrases. I use these to help the team realise issues or change the conversation they are having. So if I hear things like "Maybe...", "What if...", "I guess..." I'm starting to think there is a little uncertainty in the air. Are we making an assumption? Is there someone we can get to help us with this, if we don't understand it fully?  If I hear "Could we..." from a couple of people then maybe we are in whiteboard territory and should be drawing this out rather than trying to explain it. The cues can we quite unique to the team but some are universal.

5) Facilitation - freeing up that single thread means you can help out! We can capture that conversation in notes, write up stickies or actions, repeat and confirm with the team to move conversations along. We can structure the conversations to provide a background for the team - I have noticed that talking about the things we find hard first usually yields better results e.g. deployment, testing.

Allow your team to get lost in the detail but know when to pull them back again. This can only happen if you are the observer and not caught up in the moment with them.

Obviously you probably want to the opposite during a retro. And when you significant other is talking to you.