Listen Up

Project management is about making decisions and actions, and actions don't require words. Speaking is inversely proportional to the exchange of information: Silence allows the other to speak more, and thus those who listen receive more information. The more information you have, the better decisions and more effective actions you can make. 

By focusing on listening, you can know the issues beforehand and can sense the problem before it hits the project. And when you know issues and problems, you solve them before they damage the project. Here are a few scenarios that illustrate the power of listening.

If you don't listen

U.S. author and businessman Dr. Stephen Covey said, "Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply." This temptation to reply is so intense that it leads to frequent interruptions, ignored viewpoints and fewer opportunities for others to share their knowledge. Information flow is blocked, which impacts decision-making. Interruptions also make people feel like they are not respected and valued, leading to dissatisfaction, loss of interest and attrition. What's worse, when it's the customer who is not listened to, it could lead to loss of business. 

If you listen

A positive attitude toward listening creates a productive environment. When people's opinions are heard and acted upon, they feel respected and valued, which motivates them and garners higher levels of commitment for you. And a sense of commitment yields powerful results: Team members won't need to be "controlled," support functions become eager to help, and customers contribute instead of interfere. 

So why do people not listen? 

The reason for a lack of listening skills in project management varies. For example, a person may have grown up in an environment that does not promote listening. He or she may lack patience and critical thinking -- when he or she hears a new viewpoint, instead of evaluating his or her beliefs, the person immediately defends preconceived ideas. In addition, delivery and timeline are so important that he or she does not bother with other people's comments. Multitasking also impacts listening, and someone might often pretend to listen while his or her attention is on responding to emails.
How can someone develop a listening attitude? Adopt and religiously follow some of these points:

  • Realize that the sky will not fall if you lose the opportunity to express your viewpoint.
  • Focus on content and not on speaker's style of delivery.
  • Paraphrase the speaker's viewpoint before presenting yours.
  • Stop multitasking -- prioritize and focus on one item at a time.
  • Feelings, respect and experience are more important than results. Better feeling, respect and experience will bring better results.
  • Organize your meetings to reduce interruptions. Do not rush your meetings. If you're crunched for time, allow fewer people to speak, but listen to everyone fully, respond and take notes.   
  • Seek feedback, publicly or anonymously.
  • Appreciate! The more you appreciate others, the more others will appreciate you.

Old habits die hard, and things do not change overnight. But if you recognize that a change is needed, start with some of the bullet points above, and work your way up to all of them. It takes some time to get results, but eventually you will observe a significant difference. 

How did you develop your listening skills? Read more about the impact of effective communications in PMI's Pulse of the Profession™ In-Depth Report: The Essential Role of Communications.

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