Listen And People Will Tell On Themselves


A couple of years ago I was visiting a client and they were showing me a fabulous new multi-million dollar facility they had built.  It had the latest high-tech equipment and to use it required them to change many of their processes.

Man sitting in a meeting

One of the changes was new scheduling and routing software, custom developed by the in-house software developer and his manager.  It was something they clearly had a passion for and had enjoyed doing. As they told the tale, they explained how they wrote the initial software but once deployed it didn’t work like the company needed it to work. So, as they told the story, they got in a truck and actually worked with the staff to see how the job worked and what problems they had overlooked. After that, they rewrote the software. They were very excited about their discoveries and their solution.

Since this was not our project nor was it an assessment visit, I never said anything to them or the CEO about what they had revealed to me and the CEO, who was with us as they told the story.

Without realizing it, they had told on themselves. They had just explained how they did not really research or understand the needs, the problems, or the process when they wrote the software the first time. They took a guess. A wrong guess. It was only when the software failed to work as they had guessed it should work did they take the time to learn what they really needed to know the first time. They cut corners the first time, jumping into building a solution without taking the proper effort to understand the problem and the need.

This type of project evolution is really a common and costly problem for many businesses. What’s eye-opening is to hear a technical staff actually brag about their unbusinesslike approach to the first version of the software. And to do so in front of their superior and not one of them seem to think this was a story of avoidable extra cost and waste of valuable business resources.

When we visit companies to help them improve their processes, their technology, or find hidden dangers, we spend a lot of time visiting with employees, from top-to-bottom, of an organization.

One thing we can just about count on is that, if allowed time, people will tell on themselves. Sometimes even brag. In their excitement to share a discovery, success, or accomplishment, many will reveal that the problem they overcame was self-inflicted. And they seem to reveal this without seeing it themselves.

Now, if they understand the problem was one they created in the first place, I think that awareness alone is reason to appreciate accomplishment (assuming they don’t just intentionally create crisis situations so they can then be the hero). Self-awareness is a huge advantage in effective communication.

Whether hiring staff or consultants, seeking partners, or even working with clients, remember to give others time to talk and tell their stories. Listen hard and you will often learn more than you, or they, ever expected.


Glenn S. PhillipsGlenn S. Phillips is the author of the book Nerd-to-English: Your Everyday Guide to Translating Your Business, Your Messages, and Yourself.  You can email Glenn directly at

Glenn is also the president of Forte’ Incorporated, a consulting firm that works with business leaders to understand and address the often hidden technology and business risks lurking within their organizations.

© Copyright 2012. Glenn S. Phillips, Forte’ Incorporated. (205) 985-1111




About the Author

Glenn S. Phillips works with leaders who want to leverage technology and understand risks within. An author and blogger, Glenn is often quoted in national media, plays a really ugly tuba (it even has a bullet hole) and is a fan of dark chocolate and great puns.