Advance Updates

Shared Space Is Common Ground

More and more, professionals and consultants must conduct interviews with clients and stakeholders to inform and build alignment around important initiatives and projects. The goal is to create shared space during stakeholder interviews. However, that doesn’t always happen. For example, when interviewing others, have you ever had frustrations like:

  • “My executive clients won’t give me the time I need to interview them well, so I don’t get leadership’s perspective.”create shared space during stakeholder interviews
  • “One of my questions bothered the manager I was interviewing. She was very closed off after that.”
  • “When I interview project stakeholders, they often treat me like I am just another chore they have to deal with.”
  • “By the end of the interview I felt like my client was annoyed with me…when what I wanted was for her to feel more invested in the project.”

This Advance Update and its companion blog series are dedicated to helping you hone your client and stakeholder interviewing skills and enrich the experience for both you and those you interview. Our other related blog articles cover interviewing topics including:

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We set the stage in this article by giving you a new and useful way to think about, and approach, stakeholder and client interviewing.

Creating a Shared Space for Interviewing

Many of us start out approaching the process of interviewing as a series of questions and answers to get information. With that mindset, the best you can do is to acquire the information you need. The worst you can do is, well, check out the examples above. What is missing in this approach is the notion of shared space. Creating shared space has more to do with relationships than information. However, as you will see, it gives you the opportunity to obtain a much better understanding while achieving mutually beneficial goals with those you interview, and inviting their support for, and alignment with, your project or initiative.

Here is the concept: Each of us lives and works in a “space.” When we work and interact with people in a transactional way, we typically don’t share space with them. We advocate for, and focus on, getting the task done. That is fine if you are buying a pack of gum, but it generally doesn’t work well for more complex and personal endeavors like interviewing.Conducting Interviewscreate shared space during stakeholder interviewsYou can think of the experience of shared space as connecting with others with the intent of a higher purpose. The greater the shared space you have with another, the greater the opportunity to work in a way that accomplishes mutually beneficial work, and aspires to a higher purpose.
As consultants, we must intentionally move “our space” closer to “the space” of those we are interviewing. We do that through our consulting skills and competencies. When interviewing others, the onus is on the interviewer to take the lead in creating shared space.

How Do We Create Shared Space for Interviews?

Everything we do before and during an interview is an opportunity to build shared space…or not. To create shared space with the person you will interview you do things like:

  • Understand What Is In It For Them: See the world and the work from their perspective.
  • Identify Their Needs: Those they know, and those they may not know.
  • Identify Your Mutual Goals: for the interview, the work, and the higher purpose.
  • Communicate: With the intent to connect before and during your interviews.

If I come to an interview with a client knowing little or nothing about his business, my uninformed questions will erode shared space or block it from the start. However, if I have done my homework, the client sees and appreciates it, understands and believes I care about him, and begins to trust that I am looking for a mutually beneficial outcome. Space opens up.

As I listen carefully to my client’s responses, and ask follow-on questions that indicate my new understanding, he will appreciate my effort and intent, and will typically become more inclined to help me. More space opens up. He begins to share important information with me that he wouldn’t have shared if he didn’t feel the shared connection. The bottom line is that there are many ways to create shared space, and just as many ways to erode it. We must pay attention to how we do everything.

The “Other Conversation”

Notice in the example above that there is this whole Other Conversation going on in parallel with the verbal one. Beyond our questions andcreate shared space during stakeholder interviews answers is an unspoken Other Conversation. It is this Other Conversation that will largely determine the outcome of your interview. This is the conversation about creating shared space (or not). Let’s play back the above interview scenario, only this time we will focus on “Track 2”, the unspoken Other Conversation.

Client: “I hope this interview is over quickly. I have so much to do. Does this lady have a clue about my business?”
Interviewer: “I’ve done my homework on this client and I’m going to show him that with my first few questions.”
Client: “She really understands my business! She obviously took some time to get to know us. I appreciate that. Now, what is her agenda?
Interviewer: “I sense he is opening up, but probably still has questions about my intent. I will show him my intent through my questions, comments, and thoughtful listening.”
Client: She seems to not just have her own interests in mind, and genuinely wants a good outcome for me and my business on this project. That’s great! I’m going to do what I can to help her too.
Interviewer: “I think he really trusts and appreciates what I am trying to do. He is giving me some great information that will really help me and the project!”
Client: “Wow! Her questions made me think about things I wasn’t even aware of. I’ll have to take a closer look at the effect on the business.”

Conducting InterviewsWhat’s In It for You?

Like anything, the outcome of creating shared space before and during your interviews will depend on a number of circumstantial specifics. However, in general, you will notice things like:

  • The client or stakeholder spends extra time with you in the interview.
  • Your client is an advocate who is willing to support your project.
  • Both of you jointly “own” and share in the initiative and outcome.
  • You established a more personal connection with your client or stakeholder that can provide you with an open door and a place to go for help in the future.
  • Both of you enjoyed the interview and found the whole experience professionally enriching.
  • You have a new sense of confidence about interviewing others.

How Do I Start?

Here are three things you can do to get started:

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Skills Corner: Tips for Working Smart

Tips for Creating a Shared Space to Conduct Interviews

Here are some additional tips that you may find useful in creating a shared space for connected interviews with your clients and stakeholders:

Prepare for the Interview

In addition to learning about your client/stakeholder’s business and their position within it, don’t overlook the other things you should do to prepare for the interview and start building a connection from the beginning. For example, get clear on your goals for the interview and strategies for creating shared space. Schedule the interview and follow-up with a meeting confirmation 24 hours prior.

Anticipate Issues

By anticipating where your client/stakeholder will have issues, you will be able to think about questions and responses ahead of time that will acknowledge the issues without bias, show understanding, and move the conversation toward additive and constructive conversation, and away from disagreement and conflict.

Steer the “Other Conversation”

Maintain an intense focus on the Other Conversation and practice using what you say and do to steer it in the direction of shared space. Don’t forget about the intellectual aspects of your conversation, but don’t get lost in them either. Make sure you build a level of trust and shared space before asking the most difficult questions. If you feel your shared space closing, it is usually best to pause, clarify your positive motive, and then move in a different direction.

Don’t Make Assumptions

If you don’t understand something, ask for clarification. This shows that you care and it builds shared space.

Make Your Points With Your Questions

Avoid making statements based on your opinions only. They can be risky. Instead, practice the art of making points with carefully worded questions. For example, if you are concerned that the stakeholder will not provide enough resources to the project from her department to make it successful, you could make a statement like, “I’m concerned that the project could fail because you may not assign enough people from your department to support it.” That looks and feels like a direct confrontation, and is guaranteed to close off any shared space you may have created. Alternatively, you might ask, “What is your strategy for identifying who in your department will support the project? How will you know when you have assigned ‘enough’ people?” These questions are far more powerful and effective than making a statement.

If you and your team are interested in building your client interview skills, including the ability to create shared space, take a look at our workshop, The Connected Interviewer™. Or, contact us for a no-obligation consultation.

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Topics:Client InterviewingConflict ManagementCustomer FocusPerformance ImprovementSoft Skills