Read the Room and Roll With It

Gathered around a phone one day was me, my Team Lead and our Manager.

We were about to enter into a difficult call with a customer who was being unrealistic on timelines while not providing us the information we needed in a timely manner to hit our deadlines.

If you have ever developed custom software — this can be a common occurrence in balancing and setting expectations. This call was a bit different as he had the hardware vendor on the line as well who also had a set of tasks to complete for the client.

As the call got underway, we had all our points and everything we needed to talk about, we were ready to have “the talk” with them to reset, set ownership and get going.

Before we could get a word in, the customer launched into a tirade about the hardware vendor, how they had not delivered, how they were not meeting their expectations and how the customer was furious with their lack of support — all of this came through in an emotional barrage directed at the hardware vendor.

At this point in the call, my manager very calmly reached for the mute button on his phone, looked at us and said — “The tone of this call has changed” — it was no longer an update meeting, it was a customer needing to get out of all of their frustrations — whether they were founded or not.

We weren’t going to get anywhere in the rational points we wanted to discuss, there was no point in having the discussion, we’d be better off having a separate discussion tomorrow or the next day if we wanted to move forward with our points.

If we had of launched into our issues, the call would have gone off the rails even further and we would have left with nothing.

Fast forward to a similar call I had last year with a vendor and customer over-invoicing and support. The vendor was pushing for payment and the customer was emotionally invested in questions surrounding support. They spent an hour arguing over their own issues that were miles apart and only left with frustration.

That’s what Reading the Room is.

Taking the measure of what is happening, realizing what is going on and adjusting on the fly.

You’re not giving up ground, you’re not giving in, you’re taking stock of what’s important and deciding whether it’s best to wait till the next day or week to discuss further.

When you’re good at this, your team thinks you did a great job picking up on what the customer was saying. When you are scary good at this, the customer thanks you for running a meeting that got to the core of what was needed to be discussed.

When in both cases all you did was Read the Room.

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