"What matters to them?" Why Business Partners should ask themselves this more.

Leadership Blog  |  4 minute read

Gemma Toner

Written by Gemma Toner

It takes a long time to become an expert. 10,000 hours a much-touted theory suggests. You may not agree with this figure, but I think we all agree that the longer you practice something, the better you become at it.  You understand the nuances of your craft. You know what can and can’t be done.  People seek you out for your experience.  Your superpower is that you see what others don’t. Be it IT, HR, finance, law or marketing, you speak with the type of confidence that can only be achieved from a deep understanding of your business.  People should listen.


Leading as experts

You’ve heard what people in your business think they want. But you know what they need. And you’re not afraid to tell them.

In our experience, when we ask the folks from IT, procurement, finance or other internal facing enabling functions to describe their relationships with the business, one answer always tops the rest: 



When we delve a little deeper we discover these frustrations include:

  • They don’t know what we do
  • They don’t value us
  • They never listen to us in meetings

No one wants to feel frustrated at work and everyone would like to be recognised for their expertise. But people working in enabling functions often feel it’s hard to get their ideas across, or for anyone outside their team to even hear their point of view. And in the rare cases they are listened to and get a chance to explain what they think is needed, they feel they are misunderstood.


It’s Us and Them

We have worked with embattled IT teams who feel like every day is a war waged against unreasonable demands made of them by the rest of the business, and finance teams whose fury at the general financial naivety of their organisation is unsurpassed.

The dynamic we see play out most frequently is one of division:  It’s US and THEM. WIN and LOSE. And the irony is, in this dynamic, both sides lose out one way or another.

We often hear; “surely the nature of partnering in business is collaboration?”

However, when we collaborate as human beings, and expert ones at that, we try to fix problems. We know that if the problem falls within our area of experience, we will obviously be able to produce ‘the right answer’.  We go into meetings enthusiastically armed with our well thought out solution and convinced that it’s the only way to proceed. The drawback to having already decided the answer is that we limit our listening.  We cannot be fully present to what the other is telling us. 


"Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply" - Stephen R Covey 


We wait for them to finish and forge ahead with our expert suggestion. We tell them what they need.  We transmit information like a radio. Then we get annoyed when other people can’t see how it benefits them, or even start to challenge us.  Our little voice of frustration kicks in and deafens us to anything else that is said. Their little voice says “you don’t understand me and what I need to get where I want to be”. It’s a stand-off. The possibility of a collaborative relationship just became very unlikely.


What really matters?

As business partners we need to develop relationships. We need to not just transmit information but to stop, get authentically curious and ask quality questions.

We need to find out the answer to this fundamental question.  Not, ‘What matters to us?’  But ‘What matters to them?’.

Ask yourself: How much do you really know about what keeps them awake at night?  What their strategy is?  Their concerns and what’s missing for them to move forward?

As effective business partners we need to authentically listen for these things and focus on everyone’s agenda, not just our own.

To do this we need to listen differently. Not listen to reply but to really hear what matters to them.


Unleash your listening

Here are some practical tips to put you in the best place for authentic listening:

  • Take ownership for your own little voices
  • Park any assumptions you have made before the conversation
  • Keep in mind that their little voice will impact their ability to hear your message
  • Choose to come from a coaching place, rather than solely your expertise

So, as brilliant business partners, we need to listen and act not as experts in our field, but as business leaders and coaches who happen to have expertise in a specific area. In effect we become consultants to the needs of the other party and speak in acknowledgement of what really matters to them.

This will give you the power to affect change and cause these shifts to happen:

From frustration to satisfaction

From ‘Us and Them’ to We

From ‘Win-lose’ to ‘Win-win’… over and over again!