Help! My Developers Won’t Speak Up on Client Calls

Posted On: March 12, 2019

Project Managers have their hands full. While it’s important that the PMs get involved in escalations or higher level project discussions, many PMs in start ups and mid-sized companies get overwhelmed with having to handle the everyday client calls, stand up calls, and status update meetings. Often, many of the managers we work with exclaim, “Help! My Developers Won’t Speak Up on Client Calls!”


Actually, the most amazing thing a manager who’s team went through the program said about 9 months later in a follow up call was, “Do you know that I do not even remember saying, ‘Help! My Developers Won’t Speak Up on Client Calls!’?”


Don’t believe it?


It was amazing to hear and more incredible that the manager was really struggling to remember when getting the team to speak up was problematic as things had taken more than a 360.


It’s totally within your reach…..within your team’s reach….


Your coach, Jennifer Kumar
Jennifer Kumar

Are you looking for relief? I will share how I have been helping build teams like yours over the last 10 years – with outstanding results.


It’s not always an easy process to get someone to speak up. Telling someone to just ‘speak up’ is not enough, as we all well know. It’s complex. Let’s look at some of the reasons some developers on offshore projects may not speak up:

  • Maybe the developer is not used to speaking to foreign clients in English.
  • Maybe the developer feels the client is too senior to talk to.
  • The developer may not really grasp how to talk about technical concepts in plain English to a non-technical client.
  • There can be a lack of confidence in listening ability (accents, slang, idioms).
  • The developer desperately wants to create a connection, but out of fear of disrespecting the client, and lacking the cultural context, may stay silent or stick only to very basic technical updates, avoiding questions and conversation.
  • Depending on the fluency level of the developer, the developer may get tired or overwhelmed after speaking for more than 15 or 20 minutes in a foreign language and with a foreign client.
  • A lack of training on or understanding on how to interact with clients (foreign or domestic). 
Getting developers ready to interact with international clients
Testimonial from Pradeep Panicker Jennifer Kumar’s LinkedIn Profile

There’s also the fact that while the Project Manager wants desperately to relinquish control to the developer, this is easier said than done. And, if the PM is on the call, the developer may feel that as the PM has seniority, it’s not proper to speak up, and so the developer will stay mute.


There are many permutations and combinations of reasons – including personal, organizational, and cultural that prevent a developer from speaking up.


And, I have over 700 coaching hours under my belt, and a PCC ICF Certification to attest to that.


What is coaching? How is it different than training?
Coaching is not training.
Coaching is not content delivery.
Coaching is not pushing large groups of individuals or teams through for sheer numbers.

Coaching is a series of thought provoking one-on-one, LIVE and individualized conversations that build around specific goals identified by the manager and the candidate. Skill building happens through the 1:1 relationship that is built through the candidate and the coach. The coach is also chosen based on their content area to provide direction and consultation as required.


What Coaching IS NOT
Coaching IS NOT a series of e-online boring slide shows with or without voices droning on and on.
Coaching IS NOT void of a personal touch.
Coaching IS NOT the same for each individual. Each person will work on their learning goals as per their learning level and need as per their role and career pathway.
Coaching IS NOT to push candidates through just to check off a box saying the training was done or to get a certificate.


My Coaching Specialty
My specialty area is business communication in a cross-cultural business environment, specifically on development teams based in India interacting with clients or stakeholders in the United States of America. In addition to my 700+ hours of coaching, I have also provided almost 3,000 training hours to groups of 5 to 100 on various business communication and US business culture topics. See more of our client list and outcomes here.

You teams will experience the Solution Focused coaching approach which obliterates and makes one (just like the manager quoted above) to struggle to remember the problems the team faced through focusing on best hopes, ideal outcomes, and skill building.

You can also try it out yourself with some of the top 10 Solution Focused coaching questions I use with Dev Teams.


Let’s see how the process goes. Below the graphic, I will describe the process starting from the Intake & Goal Setting step, circling down, to the right.



Intake and SMART Goal Setting (Two or Three Short Meetings)

Intake Meeting with Project Manager (about 15-30 minutes)
I meet with the Project Manager alone or with the candidate to discuss his or her impression of the candidate and two or three areas that have been identified for improvement.


Project Manager meets with Candidate
The Project Manager should meet 1:1 with the candidate outside of the meeting with the coach so the candidate understands the purpose of these sessions and goals to be worked on AND how they contribute to the candidate’s success on the team, building his or her career in the company, and their personal development.


Intake Meeting with the Candidate (30-60 minutes)
I meet with the candidate between 30 and 60 minutes to talk about their role in general, the areas they want to work on (sometimes they may differ slightly from the Project Manager, which is acceptable), and their career and personal goals. The meeting duration depends on how talkative the candidate is, their schedule and their fluency in English. While I tend to work with candidates who can hold a conversation in English, some candidates are not used to talking in English for such a long time with a foreigner, so they may get tired from translating in their mind, thinking in English or trying to comprehend a new accent. I try to speak in a medium speed using plain English, which does end up boosting many candidate’s confidence levels in just gaining comfort in conversing with a foreigner in English.


In this call, I also review with the candidate the over all flow of a coaching session and how they are conducted (which I outline below).


As this intake session wraps up, we speak about all the identified goals. In many cases, we may need to work on making the goals more specific by breaking them down into specific skills or process steps. I ask the candidate to consider all the goals discussed until the next session as we will discuss prioritizing them.


Coaching Process

First Coaching Session (30-60 minutes)

The first coaching session is often an extension of an intake session. In this session, we look at all the goals, complete a gap analysis of the goals (as detailed in the video below) and prioritize them and break them down into actionable steps.


How to use Gap Analysis to Improve Client-Facing Skills of
Developers and Offshore Team Members

Keep in mind, that while this video was made a few years ago, the process is basically the same in identifying professional development goal setting and cross-cultural business coaching.

This process is important. It helps build critical thinking skills in the candidate. And, they start taking ownership of their own professional and personal development in this process, as well.


3-5 Subsequent Coaching Sessions (30-60 minutes)
Typically, we meet every other week or every three weeks for 30 to 60 minutes. Ideally, it’d be better to meet once a week, but often the developer’s schedule is so packed, that we end up meeting once or twice a month.


How Each Session is Structured:
First 10 minutes
We make a little small talk and review what we discussed last time and also talk about any tips, skills or awareness exercises they have implemented.


Middle of the session (if an hour, 10-50 minutes, if 30 minutes, 10-25 minutes)
We talk about one or two of the goals and assess them against actual real life work scenarios. As candidates tend to get comfortable with me, and do not show the same anxiety or lack of confidence they show with clients, we try to do role plays, but, in some cases, I will ask the candidate to share emails (with client’s names removed) or phone call recordings so I can get a context of their current skill levels. I analyze those calls, giving feedback, asking the candidate to assess their own skill levels, then consult with them letting them know areas of improvement.


And, since I am a cross-cultural coach, I also provide insight into some of the differences between the Indian and U.S. culture and tips and strategies the developer can try to build rapport, handle challenging situations, and more.


Last 5-10 minutes
We identify 2 or 3 things the candidate can work on until our next meeting. While some call this homework, I tend to call it ‘awareness building’ or ‘skill building’ exercises. We try to identify at least one confidence builder (such as taking a deep breath before a call to reduce anxiety) and one skill (writing an agenda and keeping notes before the meeting to get in the context of the meeting before it starts).


Coaching improves the quality of service delivery
 Testimonial from Jennifer Kumar’s LinkedIn Profile

Application of Coaching
The whole goal of these sessions is to give the candidates actionable steps they can take, practical tips they can apply in their work. Generally, these actionable steps are identified by the candidate with consultation from the coach. The candidate owns their own learning and development plan which leads to more successful outcomes.

1 Month Follow Ups: Status Update
Each month the coach will send a progress report to the Project Manager as a sort of status update report. In most cases Project Managers prefer this communicated by email, but in some cases, we jump on a call and talk about it.


Communicating with developers from India


Evaluation: After 2 to 3 months
After about 4-6 sessions we (the candidate, project manager and I) meet to evaluate the process, achievements, and continued areas of improvement.

During this meeting it is decided whether a candidate will continue coaching or not. The following scenarios are the most common outcomes of the evaluation meeting:

  • Candidate has achieved the essential goals, and ‘graduates.’ No more coaching sessions required.
    Candidate has achieved some of the goals, but has more goals to work on. Depending on their schedules, we will decide to continue coaching with or without a break.
  • If the candidate ‘graduates,’ the Project Manager often nominates another team member for coaching.


We provide communication coaching for tech workers: FAQs


What are some of the common goals candidates work on with you?
Here is a list of some of the common goals I have worked on with client facing developers:

Which candidates are most successful?
Candidates which are open to the process and also get support from their Project Manager (and, at times, team members) are the most successful in this process.


Which career- level candidates are ideal for coaching?
I have worked with candidates who are freshers up to candidates who are mid level career executives, including CEOs and founders of start ups, and, in some cases, upper level management and CXOs.


What are some of the results?

  • A developer who was unable to talk to a client, with four months of coaching was able to give a demo to a prospective client, securing new business for the company. 
  • Comfort in conversation including small talk, technical talk and talking about technical topics in a non-technical way.
  • Preparing for meetings which lead to better time management in and out of meetings.
  • A deeper understanding of how team dynamics influence work with the team and impressions to the [US] client
  • Learning how to build relationships and handle conflict to avoid having the PM intervene in escalations as frequently (80% reduction). 
  • Preparing a mid-level Project Manager for presenting on a global stage to clients in the US and elsewhere (onsite and virtually).


Who pays for the coaching?
In about 80% of the cases, the company pays. The company which employs the candidate sponsors and pays for the coaching engagement. Candidates who are sponsored by their companies come under the header of ‘corporate clients.’
In the remaining 20% of cases, candidates pay out of their own pocket. These clients are called ‘private clients.’


When do candidates meet with you?
Corporate clients are required to meet with me during their office hours.
Private clients meet with me outside of their office hours.


We meet over a virtual medium, with or without video as our internet connections allows.


Will our company details remain confidential?
Yes, a confidentiality form and a client contract is signed by the Project Manager and the Candidate (for corporate clients) and by the client directly (for private clients). Names of individuals coached, company details (including name, logo, and other confidential information) will not be shared without permission.

How much does coaching cost?
We price the coaching packages competitively based on the particulars of the engagement, level of employee being coached, and the size and location of your corporation.


Want to talk with me to assess your team’s needs? Let’s get started.


Let’s start you on the road to the day when you will also exclaim (as the manager above did), “I don’t even remember the last time I said, ‘Help! My Developers Won’t Speak Up on Client Calls!'”


Contact us via:
This contact form
LinkedIn Mail


Related Program:
Managing Client Expectations (Working with US Americans in Virtual Environments)
Deliver Impressive Status Updates


Related Posts:
4 Ways to Encourage Shy or Introverted Developers to Speak up on Calls
Why an Indian Manager’s Requests Were Being Met with a Cold Shoulder
Expat Success Coaching for Career, Life and Language Success in Salt Lake City 


Cover image: diana.grytsku at freepik


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