Better Communication, Better Service: An Afternoon with Paul McKenna

Friday, October 31, 2014

When you think of the skills required to be an architect, communication probably isn’t at the top of the list. At Dyer Grimes Architecture, it is.

As you know, we’re residential architects – a little more specifically, we create homes. Nothing we do is mass produced, designed by committee or recycled. Our projects are personal for our clients, who are putting in their own time and money in exchange for our skills.

We measure our success on how closely our designs fit our clients, which can only be achieved by honest and receptive communication from the very first meeting. An architect could cover a wall with qualifications but their skills won’t be useful to their clients without knowing how to listen.

But there’s more to this process than having a good ear. Communication is an incredibly complex field of study that can teach not just how to speak but to make sure that what is said is valuable and truthful.

To continue developing this essential skill, I recently attended a seminar with Paul McKenna as guest speaker, best known for his books on creating positive personal change through reprogramming unhealthy thoughts.

McKenna taught business owners how improving their client communication resulted in a better, more valuable service. In essence, the more intimate our understanding of what our clients want, the more we can tailor our work to them.

He explained that everyone has a communication method that works best for them: some are visual, preferring images and diagrams; others are auditory and will understand through listening intently; then there’s kinaesthetic, people who like to touch and explore spaces.

By recognising which method our clients are most responsive to, we can present our information in a way that will achieve clear and heartfelt understanding in them. Some will have their eureka moment by pouring over diagrams, while others could be inspired by being hands on with materials and buildings.

This also allows us to draw ideas out of reticent clients. We often work with couples or families and one person may dominate the conversation, even though everyone will end up under the same roof. Often it’s those who are quiet on first impression who have the best ideas, once you find a way for them to communicate comfortably.

Just as important as how our clients communicate is their motivation. People land somewhere on a spectrum between moving towards pleasure or moving away from pain. Are we talking to someone haunted by a failed build in the past or someone with a Pinterest board full to the brim with inspiring designs?

Understanding their motivation means we can focus on reassuring their fears and making them feel safe or, if they’re on the other end, indulging their excitement and inspiration to keep their sense of momentum satisfied.

Most of the time it’s a mixture of both. I once had an elderly client who had just come out of a painful divorce and has completed a self build with her ex-husband just five years before. She wanted to build a new home to be close with her daughter but the process was accompanied by many fresh and painful memories.

The build was also a fresh start, a means for her to leave behind the past and create new memories. By being receptive to her feelings at every stage I could minimise the pain and anxiety while keeping the excitement and positivity high, which allowed her to stay closely involved with the process. The result was more than a new home, it was a new identity.

Without proper communication, the result would have been very different. We’ve heard from clients who have felt patronised by other architects, who impose ideas rather than develop them collaboratively.

It’s essential when providing a service to remember who’s serving who. That’s why every member of the DGA team is just as good to talk to as they are at creating your dream home.

By John Dyer-Grimes