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Save Time and Money By Repeating Back What You Hear

Few things are more frustrating than wasting time and money working on the wrong thing, especially when it comes to software development.

Unfortunately, this happens all too often, and many times it’s caused by simple miscommunication. But that’s the thing—communication is hardly ever simple when you consider the context of each person’s perspective and how they can take different meanings from the same info. Sometimes the difference is negligible, but other times it leads to gaping misunderstandings that don’t get corrected until it’s too late.

What a mess it can turn into. Not only are you never getting back the time you spent in meetings thinking you were all on the same page, but you’re also losing days spent drawing up designs (not to mention the estimates you must walk back from stakeholders).

While even the milder misunderstandings are painful, the worst ones—those left uncorrected for weeks—will cause trainwrecks and throw quarterly goals out the window.

So what can you do? What if I told you that you could save time, money, and headaches just by repeating back what you hear? As simple as it sounds, using this tactic is a way you can practice agile communication by creating fast feedback loops that will nip misunderstandings in the bud.

In a meeting setting, this can often sound something like, “So what you’re saying is ___.” Besides showing that you are listening to the other person, which is always a boon for working relationships, you also invite the other person to affirm and correct your understanding.

Let’s take a look at an example of how this can play out:

Alex: “We need to add a new coupon that gives a 50% discount when the customer orders three or more chocolate teapots.”

Robin: “So what you’re saying is that if a customer orders three chocolate teapots at $5 a piece, instead of charging $15 we should charge them $7.50?”

Alex: “Oh wait, no. I see why you say that. What I mean is that when they order a fourth chocolate teapot, we want to make the fourth one half off; so $15 for three teapots, and $17.50 for four teapots. Thanks for clarifying that—let’s talk about the next coupon…”

There you have it—Robin has just avoided a price error that would’ve bit the company bottom line, prevented an emergency patch over the weekend, and averted the future wrath of Alex & co. Okay, maybe that’s a bit of a stretch, but even if it was a 15-minute rework, you can appreciate that Robin prevented any rework by taking just half a minute to go over what was said.

Take this approach for the conversations throughout the week, and the savings will stack up (even more if you stumble across and correct a major disconnect).

You’ll find numerous opportunities because of how versatile and quick this technique is. No matter the topic, it pays to echo back what you heard. And if the topic lends itself to visualization, drawing a diagram can be very worthwhile; a picture is worth a thousand words.

I’ve saved my clients hundreds of billable hours by drawing diagrams in the moment to get real-time feedback, avoiding huge design potholes and quickly course-correcting back to the true goal.

But remember: just asking the question is not enough. You have to listen for the other person’s response to complete the fast feedback loop to #BeAgile. If you try this out, let me know your experience!


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