Being a supplier means that sometimes it is easy to make assumptions about the people and organisations we work for.

‘Organisation X have the same problems as all the others in that sector’

‘It was the usual thing when the brief came in’

‘They don’t need (what they’ve asked for), they need this thing’

And so on.

Sometimes we all need help to listen more carefully. To not make assumptions, or project our ideas or frustrations on the requests that others are making.

It’s also important for us to recognise what we need, and request it clearly – and politely – from others.

Generally we’re not that bad at this, as a team. But when work is stacking up, it’s easy to relieve the pressure by projecting our frustrations on to the requests we receive. There’s no such thing as a stupid question or a bad brief – we just haven’t yet identified the need behind it.

Frustrated face

A common source of frustration might be a request to close up white space on a web page. When we hear that, it’s easy to think ‘what do they know about design?’. In fact, the client may be under pressure to find space for competing priorities, or to satisfy a perception that less white space equals greater value for money.

Whatever the real need; pausing to consider, and listening attentively to find out the answer, is invaluable.

Easy enough to say this in a few lines on a blog, but more tricky to put in to practice every day.

For that, we’ve been working with Max St John and Wild Things – his alternative business school.

Max has run a workshop for the Helpful team and been visiting our office once a month, to help us apply a form of Non-Violent Communication, which he calls Collaborative Communication, to our work.

It’s early days, but I feel there has been a real difference in how our team copes under pressure. We’re not a consistently serene, happy and forgiving ship, and nor should we ever think we can be – Max is pretty clear on that. But the value in simply recognising when we are getting into a judgement cycle is brilliant. The atmosphere is lightened and we can all have a laugh – recognising that it is us who are wrong in the first instance, and working together to identify the real need behind clients’ requests.

It is now OK for us to get frustrated, openly, but work together to lighten the load and get to the nub of the problem. And that means we’re better able to help our clients too.

If you’re working in a team where blame and frustration are creeping in to projects, then I’d encourage you to get in touch with Max.

photo credit: Untitled via photopin (license)