This is my first blog post in a very long time, we have actually run a number of events at the PowerShell User Group in the last 6 months that I haven’t shared on this blog, this has basically been down to time. I know there is a common belief out there that ‘you’re never too busy to blog’ but it is possible. I started working at Microsoft Consulting Services back in August 2014 and since then with all of the learning that goes into being able to do a good job by Microsoft standards plus learning the job itself and balancing multiple projects, it’s easy to run out of time! But, I am not complaining! I have been loving every minute of it and actually as a Consultant who interacts with different people, different businesses and different environments all the time there is so much more I am learning, particularly non-technical skills. I hope to share some of this learning through my blog (which I do also hope to post more regularly on) because I think the softer skills are actually more important than Technical knowledge to be successful in IT. Anyone can find the information to learn the technical stuff whenever they need to after all, it’s the softer skills that make you someone that customers want to work with. So, this is the first of what I hope to be many posts like this.
Pretty much my whole life I have had a speech impediment. I am pretty open to talking about it these days because it’s become a part of who I am. Sometimes it doesn’t exist, if I am well rested, well hydrated, alert, comfortable with what I am talking about and relaxed I just fluent fly through every sentence and you would never notice. Other times you would notice, I’ll have blocks during sentences, even between words sometimes, elongated syllables, basically it’s quite obvious. Still, I have a pretty handy tool belt of tricks I use to make myself more fluent (a topic for another post) and find ways to get through presentations at User Groups or events, but it is definitely there and something I have always viewed as a weakness. So much so that it has motivated me to work harder on my technical skills (if someone has to listen to me fluff my way through sentences at least the information they get should be awesome, right?) and also something I have worked to cover up as much as I can (through the aforementioned tool belt of tricks). Because of this I have also learned not to talk unless I need to, if there are others in the room who like talking I let them run! I am happy to sit back and take everything in, because I want to make whatever I am saying count – to balance the effort it takes to say it! I have never imagined a scenario where the result of this speech impediment could be seen as a strength, but in my last 7 months as a Consultant I have received multiple comments and feedback that praise my slower speech and someone even said to me “hey, thank you for speaking slowly, it was really helpful during those workshops”. This of course threw me quite a bit. This is what I have always seen as a weakness and now someone is saying “hey it’s really good you do this”. What?!
Naturally with each comment I have received I have been intrigued as to why it is viewed by others as a good thing and in some cases been a little but suspicious that they are being sarcastic or condescending so I dug a little deeper. Explanations went along the lines of:
- From an observer: “Because you are speaking and explaining things more slowly, rather than just whizzing through it, it’s less overwhelming and gives people time to let it sink in. Sometimes they need to concentrate on what you’re saying but means that you’re holding their attention and concentration, so actually the information does stick!”
- From an Architect I delivered workshops with: “When I talk about technology you notice I get very excited, and my speech starts speeding up and getting faster, when you come in and slow things down it gives me the chance to reset myself and it gives the room time to pause and absorb also, that was working really well and I think the folks got a lot more from it.”
- From a Manager involved with the Consulting Engagement: “Because you listen and don’t try to do all the talking you understand the customer and what they are trying to achieve. You end up addressing their issues because you haven’t gone into the room with a pre-conceived idea of the problem and solution and just started talking about it. There are a lot of good consultants but they often like to talk too much, you seem to try to get the customer to talk more and this makes them feel like they are being heard and understood. You also hold your ground technically when you know you are right even if the customer is difficult.”
There were others but they followed this theme. Hearing this kind of thing actually makes me very happy, it seems like something I have always viewed as a weakness has helped me to develop other strengths, and while I will always continue to work on improving the way I speak, I have developed a good listening habit and a good habit of thinking before I speak to make what I say count. I will carry these forward through my career of course.
I think there are a fair few lessons from this:
- The first being that just because I view something as a weakness doesn’t mean everybody else does, there are some scenarios where this will help.
- The second being that as a Consultant, perhaps the most important skill you can have is listening and I developed this almost by accident or necessity. There are multiple posts and articles on this principle and I really do agree, the customer doesn’t always want you to come in and start spouting information and telling them the ‘right’ way to do things. They usually already know but are hampered by their organization from doing it. They want to be heard and understood first and foremost, then they want a new perspective. Think before you speak and everybody appreciates it.
- The third lesson is that because I saw a weakness in myself I used that as motivation to turn other areas (technical skills for example) into strengths as well to counteract my perceived weakness. This actually helped to balance my weakness in this case and make it part of my overall strength. I allowed my perceived weakness to motivate me to improve other areas rather than waste the opportunity. Which was good.
- The fourth of course is when you are sharing technical information and teaching something new, the importance of taking a pause to allow everything to sink in cannot be overstated, don’t lose the audience along the way, help them to follow you all the way to the end. As a funny side effect if sometimes people feel like they need to chip in to help you along they start thinking and talking about what you’re saying themselves “so you mean if I have x I need to do y to make it work?”, it encourages interaction which leads to questioning, reinforcement and better understanding!
Lastly, if like me you are your own worst critic, what you perceive as being weak is probably something you are viewing in a harsher light than others would. Give yourself a bit of a break. Especially if like me you have a speech impediment. Folks are pretty forgiving if they know you understand them and you are giving them useful information in return, no matter how it is delivered. If you don’t have a speech impediment, try developing one for a day or so and see if you get a different experience working with your customers!
Just my experience 🙂