I would like to start the article by considering the relationship between the business analyst and stakeholders (the customer in particular) as the exchange of information between two stakeholders, where each of them strives to achieve their goals. The customer wants to get a working product. Meanwhile, the goal of a business analyst is to collect the information received from the customer as fully as possible, guided by a certain set of principles, to put all the abstract and vague wishes of the customer in a box of specific requirements, which will then be used by the development team.
In my practice, on the example of many projects, I note that it is always necessary to keep in mind the goal, that I, as a business analyst pursue, and at the same time be aware of the customer’s goal, not letting the whole process slide into empty thoughts.
A prerequisite for this is well-structured communication between the business analyst and stakeholders. In fact, a lot of attention is paid to the business analysis technics as what requirements to collect, what questions to ask, etc., but after analyzing the list of sources and various training materials (courses, etc.) it can be noted that building a cognitive-behavioral basis of interaction between business analysts and customers is not given much attention. But this, in fact, is the cornerstone, the basis, the foundation which all other business analysis techniques are then “built on”. This Terra Incognito requires thoughtful and inquisitive investigation.
In this text, I would like to take the first steps in an attempt to build a cognitive-behavioral basis for interaction between a business analyst and stakeholders. To consider it from the meta-level with a theoretical attitude in mind.
Contextually, this interaction should take place in a safe, open, non-judgmental atmosphere that inspires confidence in the dialogue participants that the entire process of current communication is moving in the right direction.
What influences the formation of this safe and trusting atmosphere?
We are considering the following three components:
- Thoughts (cognitive).
- Emotions (emotional).
- Behavior (behavioral).
Within the framework of mental (cognitive) structures, the communicating parties can have certain sets of explicitly and implicitly expressed attitudes, prejudices, certain stereotypes that can have a direct impact on the result of communication. This must always be kept in mind when there are controversial moments with customers, or their picture of what is happening differs from ours. Initially, an emotional reaction arises, but the main thing at this moment is to rationally evaluate what is happening and try to find out what is behind the customer’s objections.
It is worth starting with completely elementary things. People usually think that their perceptions and ideas about things are the same, and if two people perceive the same object differently, then one of them is definitely mistaken. However, psychological science rejects this assumption. The perception of even the simplest object is not an isolated act, but part of a complex process. It depends, first of all, on the system in which the subject is considered, as well as on the previous experience, interests, and practical goals of the subject. Even a point of view can significantly influence the perception of a situation.
In the course of communication, information is exchanged, the interaction of various communication styles and types of knowledge. Thought Level – What are you thinking? Have you thought about what your interlocutor wanted to convey to you, or have you already begun to build thought structures that have nothing to do with his message or have, but there are subtle differences that in the future can have very large discrepancies between your mental structure and reality? Are you trying to hear what the interlocutor is saying to you or are you defending your point of view?
According to the cognitive-behavioral theory, the main factor influencing our emotions and behavior is our way of thinking. Let’s look at the main negative patterns and reactions that provoke negative emotional states in people and certain actions:
- all-or-nothing thinking: seeing the world in black and white;
- rejection of positive experiences, insisting that it “doesn’t count” for whatever reason;
- automatic negative reactions: habitual self-criticism;
- increasing or minimizing the event value;
- overgeneralization: draw broad conclusions from a single event;
- personalization: taking all too close to heart or consider the actions of others as if they are directed at you;
- mental filter: choosing one negative detail and fixing on it in such a way that reality is obscured;
The second important factor in the success of communication is the correct emotional background, which can either support the optimal format of interaction or disrupt its harmonious flow. First, clients need a sense of respect, value, and comfort so that they can fully reveal or share their understanding of the issues raised within the framework of this project. Secondly, in light of the constant “white noise” and distractions, the customer wants to understand that they were being listened to and heard, and not just to be an object for imposing our point of view.
This type of interaction requires calm, firm, and genuinely empathic communication that is not always easy to master.
Empathy  (Greek ἐν – “in” + Greek πάθος – “passion”, “suffering”, “feeling”) – conscious empathy with the current emotional state of another person without losing the sense of the origin of this experience. Accordingly, an empath is a person with a developed ability for empathy.
Active listening (empathic listening) is a method used in the practice of socio-psychological training, psychological counseling, and psychotherapy, which makes it possible to more accurately understand the psychological states, feelings, thoughts of the interlocutor with the help of special conversation methods, implying an active expression of one’s own experiences and feelings.
Communication with a business analyst is, in fact, the first fore-post that must be symbolically taken by the customer in order to move forward meaningfully. This type of communication gives customers a different relationship experience than they have previously experienced. The more information we, as business analysts, collect about the cognitive bias of the customer and the project, the more efficiently all these elements can be used to build a solid foundation for the successful implementation of business analysis technics. We often help our clients look at the world from a new perspective, opening doors for them to new opportunities.
All this requires attention and patience, expanding the context of what is happening in an effort to find the most adequate ways to go through all the stages of the cognitive, emotional aspects in achieving the key factor – behavior, activities to implement all the collected requirements.
Andrey Nechepurenko, PhD, Business Analyst in Qualium Systems