They’re NOT listening – that’s the problem!

Have you ever been in a position where it is critical to get someone to see your perspective on a matter that could mean success or extinction for a major project?

Well, how did you get your point across? Did you succeed?

Recently I listened as an automotive design engineer tried to explain to a prospective customer in a new car dealership what are the key benefits of a particular suspension design. He failed to convince the prospective customer. Furthermore, the customer walked out convinced more than ever that an entirely inferior suspension design used on a competing vehicle is exactly what he really wants.

The prospective customer became convinced the design engineer did not know what he was talking about. The customer was not rational at all. The engineer sounded well qualified and his analysis was most plausible.

Can you relate to this situation? I can. This reminded me of several situations where customers got it wrong. But the other company’s salesman went off to the party with order in hand.

When people do not listen is it because we try too hard? Perhaps the design engineer was not a good salesman. Oops! He is not a saleman, maybe that’s the problem?

Seriously now, what is the right way to get an important message across the divide between those of us who know (the enlightened few) and the masses?

If so few people really listen how will we ever convince the world of the merits of our point of view? Are the benefits of something like open source software really so clear that there can be no dispute? Maybe we just need more time to be heard. Maybe people who do not buy our line simply are ignorant because they refuse to listen? Perhaps they are scared of what we have to say.

Here is another example that demonstrates a sensitive situation:

A large multi-site company is using open source software for their MS Windows networking. The company appointed Sarbanes-Oxley auditor calls at one location to perform a simple set of compliance checks. He asks the local network manager to configure a particular data file for change tracking so that it will log all file access, all file changes, and to report same with a matching user network logon record.

The network manager says he needs time to figure out how to do that. This results in a recommendation that the site should immediately adopt a competing solution that is known to offer full S-O support. The site manager reports to the IT manager that the network infrastructure is completely inadequate since the it is not possible to implement such a simple requirement.

How do you imagine the IT manager will respond? S-O compliance is a very emotive matter. Non-compliance can result in serious trouble with Uncle Sam.

I know what happened, the IT manager hit the roof, defended his previous decision, then placed an order for the recommended solution. He kept his job and reasoned that some day in the future he would set the record straight.

People like you and I (just like the IT manager) act based on our emotions, and then we justify our decision using retroactive logic. Close analysis shows that the logic of such a decision is fundamentally broken. The reason is no-one listens!

Why else do so many people jump to the wrong conclusion? After all, if the whole world would just listen to the experts everyone would deploy the right solution and there would be nothing left to dispute. Is that right?

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