Divide by Zero


As DeMarco & Lister observed when researching for Peopleware, and Brooks observed when researching for The Mythical Man-Month, most of the difficulty in writing software is in the communication between all involved parties. And to be a good communicator you have to be a good listener.

The majority of people think they’re above average listeners. This is also true of driving; most people will think they’re an above average driver. So if you’re reading this and think you’re an above average listener then there’s a very real possibility that you’re wrong. So, what are some techniques that you can apply to become a better listener?

First, quell the myth that being a good listener means not talking. Listening—actually listening instead of just hearing what someone’s saying—involves trying to understand what someone is talking about. It’s rare that you can do that without asking questions.

So ask questions. Even if you think you understand a point, ask to make sure. Try asking about different scenarios, different people.

Look for opposing viewpoints and talk about them. If someone says cats are their favourite animals, ask them what they prefer about cats over dogs.

Try to put yourself in the other person’s shoes. Going back to the previous example of someone saying cats are their favourite animals, try to imagine cats being your favourite animal as well. What is it that would make them your favourite animal? Discuss what you think.

Don’t be afraid of sharing your own views and opinions. If turtles are your favourite animal then say so. Give the other person opportunity to discuss why they think cats are better than turtles. Don’t interrupt people to speak about yourself and your opinions (of course), but your own biases are useful tools to learn someone else’s.

Written by Matthew Hotchen on