Here’s some advice you wouldn’t expect. If you really want to know how a person understands something about the world, consider asking a “stupid” question. You know, a question that you surely should know the answer to. For example, if a user says that it would be great if your website were “faster”, you could ask something like, “So, what do you mean by ‘fast’?” I can almost guarantee that the answer will surprise you. First, the person will probably look at you a little silly, but keep a straight face…they’ll give you an answer within a few seconds.
The point here is not to make yourself look stupid, rather, it’s to get at a basic understanding of how the world works from another person’s perspective. With regard to the example above, I’ve heard lots of responses to the “What do you mean by ‘fast’?” question. For some people, especially those with a technical background, “fast” means that pages appear quickly when you’re clicking around on a site. For other people it means that you’ve got some problems with your workflow. These people feel silly clicking all over your site to get things done, especially in comparison to those new cool Web 2.0 sites they’ve used.
So if you have a feeling in your gut that you don’t understand where someone is coming from, don’t be afraid to ask a “stupid” question. Get back to basics, it’ll help you see the world through the eyes of another.