As BAs, sometimes we have to get requirements from subject matter experts we don’t like. They may be abrasive, stubborn, or condescending. Perhaps they are too demanding.
No matter the reason, whenever we don’t see eye-to-eye with someone in the workplace, it causes undue stress and tension. We may even be tempted to let our feelings cloud our judgment or interfere with our work.
And we can’t have that—especially not when our jobs demand we be thorough, impartial, and expert communicators for the sake of eliciting the best requirements.
To help you communicate with a clear and focused mind, here are some tips for coping with problematic relationships in the workplace:
1. Separate the issue from the person. When discussing an idea that a difficult person advances, try to separate the idea from the person. In particular, if you disagree, make sureyour concern lies with the idea. Likewise, if a difficult person is commenting on an idea of yours, look at it objectively. Ask yourself whether they are criticizing you or the idea.
2. Try not to take things personally. Sometimes people are difficult simply because of that is how they are wired. It might have nothing to do with you or even the project at hand. Even if a snide comment comes your way, do not take it personally. Taking such comments personally only makes dealing with that person harder for you.
3. Ask questions rather than make statements. Difficult people often have strong opinions, and sometimes they are right, but other times, dead wrong. When this difficult person is wrong, an effective way of pointing it out is to ask a question about what they’ve said or requested rather than to make a statement. This put the ball back in their court and gives them the opportunity to correct themselves—and hopefully avoids confrontation.
4. Prioritize understanding and communication. Effective communication is always important, but never more so than when you are dealing with a difficult person. Many times, an argument will develop because of communication breakdowns and misunderstandings. When someone is talking, listen carefully and make sure you understand what that person is truly saying before you respond. Similarly, ensure the other person understands what you are trying to communicate and clarify if needed.
5. Clarify when necessary. If you sense that a communication breakdown has occurred, address it immediately. The following phrases can be useful, especially when responding to someone on the offensive:
- “That’s not what I said.”
- “That was not my question.”
- “Please let me finish.”
6. Use “I” rather than “you”. The first person pronoun “I” doesn’t sound like an accusation, so people are less likely to react negatively or to take offense. For example, instead of saying, “You never sent that email,” consider saying, “I never received that email.”
7. Express appreciation when appropriate.Even if someone has a difficult personality, that person can give you insight, especially if that person is your key to eliciting requirements. If they have been helpful to you, thank them and mean it. They might not adhere to professional manners in the workplace, but that doesn’t mean you have to forego yours!
Communication is a BA’s secret weapon for success.
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