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As you may have surmised from other posts, I’m a daddy. I have an almost-two-year-old little boy who, as his age would suggest, is in the midst of the “terrible twos” (by the way, most people I’ve talked to about the phenomenon agree that it starts around 18 months and lasts until college). He’s extremely strong-willed, and he is also extremely vocal. So, when he doesn’t want to leave the kitchen even though you’re trying to cook, or empty the dishwasher, or clean up, or unload the groceries, he’s very clear about it!

I used to try to instruct him to come out of the kitchen, or come with Daddy, or play with puzzles, in order to get him to do what I want (leave the kitchen), and he simply replies, “NO! NO! NO!” Eventually, I found a surprisingly powerful way to deal with his less-than-helpful single-mindedness, though — asking questions. If, instead of suggesting an approach, I ask him if he would prefer to read a book or flop on the bed, he usually picks one of the two choices and quickly runs out of the kitchen. If, instead, I had suggested that we do one or the other (or both), it would have been NO-time again. When it’s his choice, though, he’s happy to oblige.

I’ve found the same approach to be equally powerful with my requirements work. If I come into a requirements gathering situation and begin telling people how things are going to go/work, I find that I often encounter resistance (stated or unstated). However, if I plan ahead and have several options available in my toolbelt, then I have the ability to ask SMEs how they’d like to work together. They get to be in charge of the decision, even though I’ve only offered them viable choices to pick from. I realize that this may be a bit deceptive, but I think of it instead as me helping my SMEs make good choices, often in spite of any preconceived notions about requirements work.

It’s important to note that, both with my son and with my SMEs, I limit the choices. I don’t ask my little boy “What would you like to do?,” but instead “Would you like to do X or Y?” Similarly, I don’t ask SMEs how they would like to provide their requirements, I ask them “Would it be better to sketch out the existing process on the whiteboard or for me to watch you work through it at your desk?” I don’t offer alternatives that I don’t think would work (like “playing with knives” for my two-year-old or like “please fill out this use case template for me” with my SMEs), just those I think are solid options for the situation.

It’s hard to follow this approach all the time, especially when I’m in a frustrating situation or environment, but when I’m able to take a step back and put the other person in the driver’s seat (but only of a car that I think is appropriate), we both win.

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