Pei Mun Lim on the Skills of a Business Analyst


Today on the Salesforce Admins Podcast, we talk to Pei Mun Lim, Consulting Coach and Trainer at Zenhao, and the author of Salesforce Discovery 101. Join us as we chat about two critical skills for business analysts, emotional intelligence and active listening.

You should subscribe for the full episode, but here are a few takeaways from our conversation with Pei Mun Lim.

Two business analyst skills every admin should have

Pei has spent her entire career in consulting, with over a decade of experience in the Salesforce ecosystem in a variety of roles. She helps people use technology to solve real-world problems, and business analysis skills are crucial to help make sure they’re actually addressing the core issues. We brought her on the pod to talk about two skills that are foundational for doing that well: active listening and emotional intelligence.

Pei discovered the power of active listening and emotional intelligence quite accidentally when she started volunteering for a crisis lifeline where she talked to callers in distress. “I noticed that my projects started getting a lot easier,” she says, “and that was because I was listening a lot better and I was able to navigate human communication and relationships in a much better way.”

Emotional intelligence

When someone is asking for a particular functionality, it’s important to realize that human emotions are always at play. Emotional intelligence helps you gently peel back the biases, assumptions, and preconceptions behind a request to get at the real business problem and what you can do about it.

Pei points out that people communicate in several ways beyond the words that they’re saying. Her advice is to be observant of all of the nonverbal cues someone is sending. If that doesn’t match up with the content of what they’re talking about, you need to ask some more questions.

Active listening

The biggest driver behind resistance to change is fear. As Pei puts it, people are concerned with questions like, “What does this mean for my job security?” or, “What does this mean for me as a person?” Showing empathy and that you care about those concerns can go a long way toward helping people to open up. That means having the emotional intelligence to acknowledge their fears and then using active listening to show that you understand.

“Active listening is not a passive action, it is an active posture,” Pei explains, “you’re trying to see the world from the other person’s point of view.” Beyond simply showing that you’re paying attention, you’re actively trying to listen without judgment. And, she notes, that includes showing that you want to understand them better by asking follow-up questions. That’s how you get to the real underlying issues at hand.

Be sure to listen to the full episode for more about how you can practice emotional intelligence and active listening in your day-to-day life, and so much more.

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Full show transcript

Mike: This week on the Salesforce Admins Podcast, we are talking with Pei Mun Lim about two really critical skills for business analyst. By the way, we’re wrapping up Business Analyst August so, if you’re listening to this podcast for the first time, check out the episodes that come before this. We’ve interviewed some really great business analysts in the Salesforce community, Tony V. Martin and Ko Forte. Amber Boaz is on talking about moving ineffective meetings to Slack. We really kind of check all the boxes this month, and we’re going to wrap up this month with two skills for a business analyst from Pei Mun Lim, on emotional intelligence and active listening.

So super fun there. But hey, before we get to the episode, I want to make sure you’re following the Salesforce Admins Podcast on iTunes or wherever you get your podcasts. Do that because then that way every Thursday you get the new episode, bloop, right on your phone. It’s like magic. All the podcasters just push it right there. You wake up, you can walk to work or catch a ride, do whatever you do, walk your dog and listen to the podcast and you don’t have to think about it. Anyway, let’s talk about active listening and emotional intelligence and get Pei on the podcast. So Pei welcome to the podcast.

Pei Mun Lim: Thank you for having me.

Mike: Yeah, well, we are the final episode of what I’m calling Business Analyst August. Say that five times fast and wrapping up with what I think are really two important skills because we’ve been emailing back and forth. Thank you to my co-host, Gillian Bruce for connecting us. She interviewed you in August, but we want to talk about the emotional intelligence and active listening for a business analyst, and you brought that up as a topic and I thought, wow, we’ve tackled a lot this month with Tony V. Martin and Ko Forte and even Amber Boaz was on helping us have effective meetings in Slack. But, so that’s the theme for today’s episode. But before we get into that Pei, why don’t you tell us a little bit about how you got into the Salesforce ecosystem and what you do now?

Pei Mun Lim: Thank you for that, Mike. So all my life since I graduated university, I have been in the consulting partner side of things starting off with the Microsoft world before moving into Salesforce in 2012. So I’ve done almost every single role within the project delivery from business analyst to configurator to lead QA trainer, project manager. So it’s something that I am very passionate about and just looking at what we do, which is using technology to help people solve real world problems, it is really important that we are solving the right problem, and that’s where the business analysis skill is so very important.

Mike: Yeah, I couldn’t agree more because sometimes it’s working through and past the perceived problem to get to actually the underlying stuff, but wow, I had no idea you’ve worked in every single role. Did you have one that you really enjoyed?

Pei Mun Lim: I like them all. I think the only role I’ve never done is a developer one. I think that is just beyond my capability, although I have done data and solution architecture in that role, so I still feel very close to the architecting team led by Susannah Plaisted, for example, and we have conversations around things like that.

Mike: Yeah, yeah.

Pei Mun Lim: Yeah.

Mike: Wow. I did training once for a while. That was a lot of fun. It can be frustrating, but fun. Well, let’s get into the business analyst stuff that you’ve done. And I mean, I feel like as a project manager, you’re almost always nonstop business analyst, but let’s talk about the emotional intelligence part of it, because I haven’t really touched on that in any of the episodes that we’ve talked because a lot of it has really been what I would call the very tactical part. And I think the emotional intelligence part might be a little bit more of a strategic part because it’s something you’re bringing to the table.

Pei Mun Lim: If I can share with you, it’s a little bit of an accidental discovery for me, mainly because about 14 years ago, I decided to volunteer for a charity in the UK called Samaritans, and we support callers who are going through emotional distress, most of whom might be feeling suicidal. So that’s where I honed my active listening skills and also emotional intelligence. And what I found interestingly was that when I first volunteered, I started noticing that my projects started getting a lot easier, and that was because I was listening a lot better and I was able to navigate human communication and relationships in a much better way. And I finally made the link between emotional intelligence and the listening part that was actually just making problem solving a lot more interesting. We were dealing with the business problem as opposed to the human problems of relationships and politics. So that was quite accidental in a way.

Mike: Yeah, boy lost in all of the swim lanes and the flowcharts is the actual relationships that people have in a business and the handoffs that can happen.

Pei Mun Lim: Absolutely. I think what sometimes we don’t realize is when we are trying to understand why someone is asking for a particular functionality, that there are human emotions at play. Sometimes they’re asking for things that are nice and shiny as opposed to what they actually need. Or they might be thinking about something that would make their boss happy as opposed to what’s actually going to solve their problem and create more value to the team as a whole. So the human skills around emotional intelligence is where we gently peel back biases, assumptions, preconceived ideas to make the other party feel comfortable about sharing with us what’s actually bothering them. And that’s where I see real business analysts, the skills come into play.

Mike: Yeah. How much do you feel you’ve done, I’ll call it interviewing, but going through a process to determine if it, to really remove some of that emotional element out of it?

Pei Mun Lim: I think there’s a big part of emotional intelligence. There’s two parts. One is the personal bit, which includes the self-awareness, emotional mastery and self-motivation side. And then there’s the interpersonal side of things, which includes things like social intelligence, social awareness, and all this is Daniel Goleman’s framework. It has to do very much with the interpersonal side. It is being observant of how people are reacting to the things that are said and the nonverbal cues and whether or not it matches what they’re saying. So all I’m watching for is are there expressions matching or in line with the things that they are expressing to me? And if not, I’m just gently helping them explore why that’s the case or why that’s not the case.
And I think that’s one thing that it’s paying attention. I think a lot of people don’t pay attention, and if you listen to conversations that are happening in a workplace that paying attention and being curious part is absent in a lots of interactions. So I bring that into any workshops that I have. And so when admins, so people do ask me as a Salesforce Admin, how do I use this skill? And my advice is just pay attention more than normal in terms of how nonverbals are being expressed by the other person and just do they match? You don’t have to be an expert in micro-expression to figure out if someone isn’t quite telling the truth. I think a lot of us can tell when things don’t match.

Mike: Yeah. Do you feel, and you have a lot of experience in this, for going through and uncovering some of those business processes and truths, is it better to interview people or to do business process mapping on an individual level with people one-on-one or to do it in a group? Do you find that you really have to pay more attention to the nonverbal skills when people are in a group?

Pei Mun Lim: It depends on what you’re trying to achieve here. Sometimes you need groups to ferret out the details of handoffs between different departments and usually, and obviously this before the pandemic where I would be on site with the client and I would actually get them to stand up and put up their own processes on post-it notes on a really large, what we called brown butcher’s paper where you just roll it, stick it on the wall, draw some swim links and go, “Hey, right, let’s just start here. The customer makes an order, what happens next?” And just engage people in getting up and putting up their processes. And then I’m just asking questions as to, does that look right? Is this what happens? And usually it becomes a self-correcting process where they would say, “Hey, no, that’s not the way we do things. Let me just add a few more post-its here.”

And so I would enjoy that process. It’s highly energizing. Now that a lot of things are done online, it needs to be changed slightly. So I would think about, so just going back to the in-person site interactions, I’m able to manage a lot of those interactions to make sure that what comes out is what is reality. Whereas I get your point that sometimes there are some people who might not be as open in sharing their ideas, which is more obvious in the remote world where people can be off camera, be on mute, be more silent, blame not interaction on internet connection, for example. And so what I might do in those situations is find an opportunity to check in with each person, tell them what I’m expecting when I’m doing process mapping, when I’m doing a business analysis workshop and then getting them engaged.

But there are some processes that you can only do more effectively in a group format, and even more so if we’re able to do it onsite in person. Again, I know that’s maybe a constraint nowadays, but that’s when the information is much, much richer. But I’m very conscious of personalities that might play into whether what we get out of it is a rich true picture or not. And I try and find ways to have one-on-ones before that discovery process in order to talk to them and manage their fears and their expectations so that we can have a more robust discovery session, if that makes sense.

Mike: Yeah. No, it does. And I’m just thinking back to the times when I’ve worked with consultants and they’ve done business analysis and process mapping. I would love to know from you along these same lines, what are some of the cues that you look for when you’re working with maybe a team or a group of people that are adverse to change versus ones that are very open to change?

Pei Mun Lim: People who are adverse to change are usually reacting from fear or insecurity. And thinking back of the question that Gillian had for me on the interview before, it has to do with feeling irrelevant. A lot of the resistance that I usually see when we come in as consultants is say, “Hey, we are going to help put in this new system. It’s going to be great.” There’s usually an underlying fear of what does this mean for me as a person and what does this mean for my job security? And it’s very human. All of us want to be relevant, all of us want to be valued, valuable, and contributing and understanding what’s going on in their world usually helps because from their point of view, someone’s listening to them, even if it’s this consultant who’s come on board, but there’s this person who’s willing to sit there and just listen to what’s going on in my world.

Why am I resistant to the new system that’s coming in? Why am I resistant to this scary thing called AI and ChatGPT? I don’t know what’s happening. I don’t know. Is it going to steal my job? I feel very scared and a lot of people are very afraid of articulating this fear. And so it goes back to the person who is doing the questioning or the business analysis or Salesforce Admin for example, or the consultant to be more empathetic and to show some empathy using emotional intelligence to have the kind of conversation that allows these people who are afraid to open up.

And as soon as, this is really interesting, but as soon as we are able to show that we are listening and that we care, which results in them feeling like they matter, like someone’s listening, that usually goes a long way towards deescalating the kind of conflict they might be building in their head or the fear that might be building inside their heart and allow more structural, functional, youthful conversation to flow around how can we now help you in your work to make things better for you? It needs that first empathetic listening to deescalate the situation. Otherwise, if you don’t have that and you’re just saying, “I don’t care how you feel, we are going to put in this new system whether you like it or not, this is the future. I’m going to drag you into the modern century.” You just going to compound a resistance. So it just takes a pause and let’s listen. Let’s… Talk to me.

Mike: Yeah. I heard the word listen in your answer quite a bit. So let’s talk about that because I feel active listening is a skill. It’s also something that the person who’s receiving information conveys back to the person that’s giving that information to show that they’re active listening. So let’s dive into that. I guess you’ve probably had examples of people that weren’t active listening. We can think of that all day long. What are some examples that if you’re doing business analysis for the first time or you’re listening to people that aren’t adverse to change, that you can really do active listening?

Pei Mun Lim: Active listening is not a passive action. It is an active posture where you are trying to, I wouldn’t use the word understand, but you are trying to see the world from the other person’s point of view. You are present in every shape, that means in your mind, your body, your soul. You’re putting your phone away, you’re looking at them and you are trying to tune into the emotions and paying attention to the words and trying to see things through their lenses. It requires perspective taking. You have to take the perspective of the other person. Whether you agree with it or not, that is not quite relevant in when you are doing active listening.

It’s just trying to understand their point of view. Everyone in their own world is never wrong. Whatever position they’re taking, it is right in their head and in their body in terms of why they feel this way, why they think this way. They are right. And what we want to try and understand is where they’re coming from. So showing that you’re paying attention, not being judgmental at all. So that one’s a really hard thing for a lot of people to do because you can show judgment not only through your words, but also through the way you say things and facial expression, body language, nonverbals. I always use the example of how a lot of parents have mastered this art by just being able to control behavior with one eyebrow for example.

Mike: I know that eyebrow.

Pei Mun Lim: It is mastering that. Just how do I listen, not agree with the other person, but not show it. That is not easy, but if you can, that is a huge part of active listening. There’s another part which I have very robust discussions with my team sometimes, which is not trying to solve the problem yet. When you’re actually listening, you are not at the back of your mind thinking, oh, I can do that with a flow. I know I’m going to use a master detail relationship on those objects. I’m going to… No, just put that aside because then you’re not listening and you’re also jumping the gun because you are not there, you’re not present. So I tell my team when I’m coaching them is the very first part is just really listening, saying it back, making sure that you’ve understood by rephrasing things, using their words, and just conveying that you have heard them.

So not being judgmental, not solving problems, saying things back, and having the courage to ask the difficult questions that you might be worried about hearing back. So just asking questions. I don’t understand, can you tell me what you mean by that? When you say X, do you mean Y? When you mentioned this thing, I didn’t quite get it. Can you try and explain that to me maybe using slightly different words? Can you show me an example? So all these questioning and the part of Socratic questioning helps to create a bridge of understanding that we know what we’re talking about here isn’t a result of an assumption. If it is, what was the basis for that assumption? It’s asking questions, difficult questions. How did you come to do things this way when you say, you know that this isn’t the best way to do things? So these are just some examples of how to practice active listening for a business analyst in a way that isn’t quite, let’s go into the problem solving mode quite yet.

Mike: Right. Yeah, no, I tell advents that, and I’ve had to practice that all the time, is there’s no such thing as solutioning on the fly. That’s what I call it. You can get lost in your head thinking through, oh, I’ve got an answer for that. I know what the solution looks like, and then you tune out. I’d be curious, so myself, I very much wear, I don’t know, my expressions on my sleeve. I rarely hide exactly what’s going on in my head. What were some of the ways that you worked on your active listening skills as part of being a good business analyst, but maybe not while you were doing the actual act of being a business analyst? Is there ways that admins can practice being active listeners outside of a high pressure meeting like that?

Pei Mun Lim: Yes, of course. I think that in our daily conversations, this is not something that is talked about a lot. So as an example, when you see somebody and you say, “Hey, how are you doing?” The gut response is, “I’m fine, how about you?” And a lot of people will not actually share the fact that they might not be fine. The I’m fine response is a socially acceptable response, an expected response, and many might feel, oh, you don’t want to hear about what’s going on in my life. So I usually say, “Are you really fine, because you looked a little bit quiet during that meeting that we had earlier on, you usually more energetic,” for example. So I might say something like that or, “What’s going on? Can you tell me a bit more?”

So you can start with just that and not shy away from listening to someone saying that they couldn’t get to sleep because they’ve had to work late or some family problems or things at work. And those are difficult things to get into for the normal individual because we all have problems and sometimes we feel nobody wants to listen to us. At the same time, I don’t really want to listen to someone else because I don’t know how to respond and is it appropriate and I might say the wrong things and all of that, and that perpetuates the problems. No one’s listening to anybody else because they think all these thoughts that they won’t be great listeners. They won’t know what to say. Nobody wants to listen to them anyway.

And so maybe just break that and talk to the cashier at the supermarket. I do that a lot and I’ll say, “Oh, it looks like it’s a very busy day today. What time did your shift start? What time do you end? Oh, it’s going to be a long time. I hope you’ve got lots of coffee.” Or, “Hey, you’re going to finish in half an hour. I hope you get a chance to relax.” So making small conversation and letting the other person know that they’re seen, just small bits. It doesn’t have to be very heavy, but I think these small moments of interactions are what makes human nature great, I think.

Mike: No, you summed it up perfectly, and I couldn’t help but think of the amount of active listening that I believe my mom does because every time she is in the supermarket checkout lane, she, by the time her groceries have been scanned, knows that person’s history pretty well and is usually pretty good friends with them and will make it out to the car and let me know. You know they’ve been working there for 20 years and they had a seven hour shift. I’m like, man, I usually don’t know any of that.

Pei Mun Lim: Oh, I like your mom.

Mike: Yeah, she can find out anything, I’m telling you. But that’s really good advice is just thinking through your everyday interactions as a way of practicing the stuff that you’re going to work on when you’re doing business meetings and information gathering. As we wrap up, I always love to… You’ve given us a lot of advice and two really great topics to think about. One thing that I’ve always struggled with is sometimes podcasts or presentations, and you’re like, cool, here you go, off into the world, figure it out. As somebody listening to the podcast that listened to this and thought, okay, what should I do next? That’ll be my question to you, Pei. What should people listening to the podcast do next?

Pei Mun Lim: I think a great start might be the first part of Daniel Goleman’s emotional intelligence, which is self-awareness in what I call debugging yourself, which is paying attention to what you think and how you feel and what triggers those thinking and those feelings, and just understanding that everyone has their own thoughts and their own feelings that they might not be examining. So if we start with ourselves and ask questions like, “Hey, why did I have that thought? Why did that email make me so upset?” Then you can start practicing asking yourself questions and doing active listening on yourself. So is it because the person who wrote that email got the promotion I didn’t? Why am I upset about that?

And just having an internal dialogue with yourself, because that will be helpful when you are having conversations with other people and especially during a discovery context where you want to find out more information and the more you practice on yourself and being very honest with how you respond, that will help you also when you are asking questions to other people in how to frame them to be more tactful, to be kinder, to be less judgmental, because we all have, especially in the British conversation and culture, passive aggression and sarcasm is such an inbuilt way of life that not doing that, it’s quite difficult. But just being kinder to yourself and having real honest conversation and trying to improve the self-awareness part of emotional intelligence will help you in a big way with almost everything else. I think starting from there would be a good point.

Mike: Yeah, no, it’s very great advice. I never really picked up on the sarcasm of the British.

Pei Mun Lim: No.

Mike: No. I don’t know. Maybe it’s because I’m sarcastic.

Pei Mun Lim: Could be.

Mike: It kind of equals itself out. But anyway, I diverge. This is great advice. Thanks for sharing this with us, and it’s definitely given me a lot to think about so I appreciate you coming on the podcast and sharing this with everybody. And yeah, this was a really good discussion. Thank you.

Pei Mun Lim: Thank you so much for having me. This is my favorite topic. I can go on forever, so I appreciate you giving me the opportunity to talk about this and hopefully helping people to just have better conversations because that’s what connects us all. It’s just really good connection that help each other feel seen and that they matter. And I’m not seeing this in a very extreme way, but sometimes just that small conversation could save a life.

Mike: Absolutely. So that was a lot of information from Pei, on emotional intelligence, active listening. Really brought to light a lot of good things. Also, what great advice, if you want to practice some of these skills, do it in your everyday life when you’re going through a checkout or maybe when you’re riding a bus somewhere or just walking down the street. I thought that was really good. So if you enjoyed this episode, I need you to do one thing. If you’re listening on iTunes, you can just tap the dots and choose share episode, because then you can post it to social, you can text it to a friend.

And of course, if you’re looking for more great resources, your one stop for everything admin is, including a transcript of the show. So in case you miss something, you can go back and read it. I think that’s really cool. I would appreciate you sharing it out. I love when more people listen to the podcast. It helps me. Now, be sure to join the conversation in the Admin Trailblazer group in the Trailblazer Community. Don’t worry, guess where the link is. That’s right. It’s in the show notes. So until then, we’ll see you in the cloud.

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