We are the voice of the customer and we cannot play this role unless we understand the customer. The most vital skill at play here is our listening skills. Engaging our customers, our teammates and anyone we are talking for any purpose cannot happen unless you get deeper in to the conversation.
I am going to share with you the framework I use to listen better and have those much needed deeper conversations so I can get the information that people don’t normally share.
I call this framework SOAR.
SOAR will help you start to get better, and start to see that momentum where you’re building up your skills as a product manager.
Hey this is Shobhit, founder of International Product Manager and today we are going to talk about how do you listen in a way, how do you engage your customer, your teammate, anyone who you’re talking to in a way such that you get more information, you get deeper into the conversation and that is such an important skill for product managers.
We are the voice of the customer and you can’t be the voice of the customer unless you understand the customer. We are influencing others all the time to work towards the success of the product and you can’t influence others unless you understand them well, unless you get those deep insights, really uncover what is it behind what you’re saying. And so what I want to teach you is a framework that I use to listen better and to have deeper conversations so that I can get more information so that I can understand the underlying concerns. I teach this in much more details in my class called the Intentional Product Manager Habits Mastermind where we talk about the core practices and the habits that product mangers have. I focus mostly on soft skills, the so-called “soft skills”. In my opinion those are the ones that are hardest to master.
In listening, the framework here is called SOAR.
S stands for make Space
O for Observe
A for Ask Questions
R for repeat and validate.
I’m going to focus on the SOA part here.
First is Make Space. You’re going to learn 3 techniques and you can use these techniques over the next week and start to see the difference in your conversations
Make Space. This is very simply getting rid of distractions.
Shutting down your phone, not talking with laptops open. Common Sense. But common sense is not common practice. When you’re trying to multi-task, how deep do you get into those conversations. One of the things that’s a little bit more challenging and what you might say as “oh I have to do that” is when you’re having a customer conversation and you’re also taking notes on your laptop. You know, it might seem like the right thing to do. But I challenge you, you really won’t be present in that conversation. What you need to do is to actually step away from that and, instead, you need to step into just really listening, maybe taking some notes and queueing up your next questions in your notebook and either have somebody else come in and take notes or record the conversation so you can transcribe it and get a lot out of it. And I love to record conversations where legally it works when I have the permission. So I can go back and watch it and what happens is I notice a lot of things that I never did in the moment.
When you need to observe something, you need to step back and that allows me to do that.
Observe and Validate.
The core technique I want you to apply here is one that I learned from a book called Never Split the Difference. It is a book on negotiations and influence. Written by an FBI negotiator. One of the techniques he uses is basically an observation technique where he uses “It seems like…” and then expresses his observation. For example, if you notice someone that’s getting very uncomfortable or a little upset, you could say something like “It seems like you are a little angry about it” or “It seems like you have some reservations about it”. What that enables is that it gives space for that other person to now understand that you have made your observations to dig deeper into that particular subject to help you understand more about the context in that subject. Observe and let them validate or add more information.
This is all about asking questions, asking better questions. I’ve written so much about just how much you can change by the kind of questions you ask. Where I want you to get comfortable for a time is to ask more open-ended questions. Questions such as “How did that make you feel?” and then be silent. Silence is another thing we are so uncomfortable with and when I talk about negotiations or customer interviews, the more you’re willing to have silence, the better you can do it. Even in coaching. So many times in coaching there’s just something that the other person is thinking. And then you speak up. You as a coach speak up and it’s lost forever. So you got to learn to both ask those open-ended questions and maintain silence a little longer. You’re actually making a little uncomfortable. They’ll be rushing in to fill the silence and taken aback by those open-ended questions but that’s when you get the true insights. Some of my favorite open ended questions are “How did that make you feel?” or “What would you have done in an ideal world” I would often ask it as a question that’s more like “If you have a magic wand and you can do anything here, what would you do?” Or you could ask something like “Hey, if I’m looking back, let’s assume this thing was really successful” Try and put them in that situation and now you’re describing how it went, how would you describe it.. Very open-ended question, changing the mindset there a little bit, assuming success and then asking them to tell you how and why it became successful.
So, to sum up, the core technique for listening better and getting better insights, going deeper is called SOAR. You are making space, you’re observing, you’re asking more and open-ended questions and then you’re repeating and validating which I did not cover today.. If you want to learn more, check out my class. I have both a video version as well as a mastermind that we run. You can certainly learn more. But I believe just watching this video now, watching it again, noting these techniques down and trying to apply it in the next week, you can get a lot of value out of them. You can start to get better and start to see that momentum where you’re building up your skills as a product manager.
This is Shobhit, founder of intentional product Manager. Talking here about one practice you can learn in 15 minutes and use over the next week to start to get better in these aspects of product management. I look forward to seeing you in my next video.
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