Empathetic Involvement: Who Are You Working For?

Ah, the joys of starting a new project with a new client. Route, parking, building, department. A new adventure. Here you go again, building a new relationship. As with any relationship, there will be give and take, up and down. There will be meetings and details, schedules and budgets. But will there also be mutual understanding, mutual trust and shared aspirations? Will there be personal connections, shared stories, and even laughter and enjoyment? These are things that will greatly impact the success of your project, and it is up to you to be aware of them, to kindle them. Meanwhile, you will be serving your client, and he or she will have expectations of you that you should also be aware of and should be eager to meet.

We shouldn’t overthink these things, but we should explore them. First, consider the personal aspects. Who is your client? What matters to them? What do they care about? What is their passion? Don’t be afraid to form conversations around things that may not seem to have anything to do with the project itself. These personal perspectives often generate new ideas in exciting ways. Your clients’ life experiences are very influential in how they perceive a project’s outcome.

This background is intertwined with their use of technology, and a gauge of their enthusiasm for technology should be quite useful to you. Be aware of their interactions with technology, such as smartphones, unified communications systems and software. Ascertain their attitude toward current tech applications, such as games and social media, and how they interact with other generations. Hobbies, family, vacations, background, sports, musical tastes and food all are within the bounds of understanding someone’s enthusiasms. You will eventually find common ground, and find yourselves coming back to it and enjoying the conversation.

Secondly, what is your client’s business role in the project? Is this the person who is paying you, or is there someone else you must also be paying attention to? Who are you the most beholden to? Who exactly are you serving? It may be an architect, a user of the space, the owner of the business or the building, an IT director, an AV director, or a general contractor.

Often, the people you are working with are not the ones who will approve your invoice, or even the people who will be in the venue after it opens. In new construction, the people who will occupy the space may not even be hired yet. Anticipating the needs of people who are not around, through the lens of others or yourself, can be difficult. Understanding the culture of the future venue by learning more about the people you are working with now may be all you will have to work with. Understanding the authority of your direct contact to approve important aspects of the project, such as program decisions and change orders, is mandatory for you, because you must have a link to the final approver. Verbal requests from anyone else should be respected and considered, but these must be verified.

Thirdly, you must understand the dynamics of the organization, and your personnel interface with the project must be placed in perspective. This discussion that you are reading began with exploring this topic in an April 2002 Sound & Communications article, “Assimilating The Client’s Culture,” and all of it is still true today. Nothing is more important to your success in interpreting your client’s needs as informing yourself about each client’s everyday business, mission and goals. Your client is immersed in this culture daily, and will assume that you are paying attention to that environment. Your solutions resonate and respond to your clients’ business needs, becoming one tool among many others that they wield.

In this vein, it is critical to do our homework: to research the client’s unique business roles. An IT director, a pastor and a college dean, for example, will each have different world views. They will also have unique languages germane to their professions and organizations. Don’t be afraid to ask about these and other unique things, such as their…

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