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Active Listening

2 min

One of the essential soft skills of an effective Software Development Engineer (SDE) is active listening. What is active listening? According to the site VeryWellMind: "Active listening is a communication skill that involves going beyond simply hearing the words that another person speaks but also seeking to understand the meaning and intent behind them. It requires being an active participant in the communication process."

Here are two key reasons why active listening is important for SDEs whether when engaging with stakeholders, other engineers, or customers:

1️⃣ Deepens understanding: When we listen actively we listen to understand rather than to respond - which enables us to develop a deeper understanding of the topic at hand. This could be listening to a customer describe their current unmet need or painpoint, to a product manager describing the proposed solution, to another engineer explaining their high-level design. This process will help you garner new insights (e.g. domain invariants; additional requirements that were missing), evolve your initial ideas (e.g. we can leverage an external integration to automate document verification), and in some cases even correct flaws in your solutions and/or mental model (e.g. thinking that precision is more important for this use case vs. speed).

2️⃣ Reduces the likelihood of misunderstanding: When we listen actively, we tend to ask open-ended questions to encourage further responses (e.g. what would need to happen for the customer to adopt this solution or what are your thoughts on how this part of the code can be refactored) as well as paraphrase and reflect back what is being said (e.g. just to confirm my understanding, the registration process involves a multi-step process consisting of a) b) and c) ?) - both of which reduce the risk of misunderstanding and ultimately a solution that does not meet customer needs. Another positive side-effect of this is building trust with stakeholders as you accurately capture and address inputs provided.

This post is part of a four-part mini-series I am collaborating with Essam Fahmi on, covering essential soft skills of effective SDEs. This series is inspired by the book 14 Habits of Highly Productive Developers by Zeno Rocha. Stay tuned for part 2!