Ask curious questions to dig beneath their first answer. Once you’ve asked the question, please be quiet, listen and wait for their reply. The six sigma tool, the “5 Whys”, is useful in this context. By the time you’ve got to the fifth question, you’ve got to the heart of the issue.
Can you use their language? A few years ago, one of my colleagues had the privilege of interviewing the Irish band, The Corrs. At one of their gigs, the audience sang their hit song Love to Love You back to the group while they stood quietly on stage. The lead singer, Andrea Corr, described the experience as “spiritual”. How does it feel when someone is speaking your language? Does it make life easier? Can Project Sponsors and Project Managers become bi-lingual in business and project speak?