Actively Making a Difference

November 1, 2016 by FlexPro

dogI used to love the Far Side cartoons by Gary Larson. One of my favorites is of a guy reprimanding his dog, “Ok, Ginger, I’ve had it. Stay out of the garbage…”  And what the dog actually hears is, “Blah, Ginger. Blah, blah, blah!”  I have to admit, I sometimes feel this way when I’m talking to my kids, especially when it involves housework.  I’m sure we can all relate to sometimes feeling like we’re talking to the wall. As a parent I’ve done a lot of “telling” over the years. My sons have been told to do their homework, clean their rooms, brush their teeth… After a while, what they hear is blah, blah, blah. Sure they hear me, but are they really listening?

As a project manager, it’s our job to lead our team and that often involves providing not just direction, but instruction. We do our fair share of “telling” our team lots of things.  We define the scope of the project, communicate the timeline and the budget, and assign tasks.  At best, we hope that our team is receptive and engaged, paying close attention to every word. At worst, the reality is they may not be.  So how do we help ourselves to do a better job of being heard?

In researching this topic I came across many wonderful quotes that nicely conveyed the fact that in order to be heard, we have to be active listeners as well. People want to know that what they have to say matters too. One-sided, one-directional interaction not only causes your team to tune you out, it tells them you don’t value their input or respect their opinions. One of my favorite quotes (attributed to either Theodore Roosevelt or John C. Maxwell, depending on who you ask), is: “People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.”  I’ve found this to be quite accurate. Active listening is about creating a connection, fostering understanding and building trust. It involves paying attention and giving acknowledgement. It’s the foundation for respect and a catalyst for gaining information and perspective. It takes very little to show someone they matter to you. Ask them about their weekend, their kids or their vacation plans. Show interest in a hobby they have. Compliment their work, show appreciation for their effort, ask for feedback, then really listen to what they have to say.

Considering we all spend so much time conversing with others, I was surprised to learn that, according to research, we only remember between 25 and 50 percent of what we hear. Regardless of whether you’re speaking to a colleague, your spouse, your kids or a complete stranger, on average they’re hearing less than half of what you say! Listening is definitely a skill we can all work on improving and as project managers it’s a skill that’s critical to our success and the success of our team. So if your team doesn’t seem to be listening to you, maybe you need to start listening to them! A simple, “How can I help?”, or “How are things going?” might be all it takes to open up a meaningful dialog. It’s time well spent, it builds stronger relationships and makes an emotional connection. Take time for 1-on-1’s, a coffee break or a walk around the office building with your team members. Sometimes people just want to know you care first. To quote Winston Churchill, “Courage is what it takes to stand up and speak. Courage is also what it takes to sit down and listen.” So, as a project manager (or your family’s manager for that matter), do you have the courage to sit down and listen?

-Rose Cook, FlexPro CEO

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