As project managers we have to be adept at many skills in order to be effective at our jobs and first and foremost is communication. Technology of today allows us to communicate immediately, whether by text, e-mail, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat or any of the other tools out there allowing us to always be “on” and always connected. The problem that I see with all of this technology is that none of these communication tools require actual conversation. Kids today are growing up doing more talking with their thumbs than with their voices and most of us as adults aren’t much better. So I guess it just follows that if we’re really not talking to each other anymore, we’re really not listening either.
The Merriam-Webster dictionary definition of listen is: to pay attention to someone or something in order to hear what is being said, sung, played, etc.: to hear what someone has said and understand that it is serious, important, or true.
In reality, while all of the technology we have at our fingertips is great, nothing should replace a good old conversation. Communication is an important part of project management and it’s not just all about what we say – listening
is truly the key. Do you hear me? It’s all about the listening! Have you ever been introduced to someone only to immediately forget their name? Get volunteered for something because you weren’t really paying attention? I don’t think it’s a stretch to say we’re all guilty at some time, whether in our personal or professional interactions, of poor listening skills. We may think we’re paying attention, nodding along in agreement with the speaker, but all too often our minds are elsewhere. So how do we become better listeners? I’ve read a number of articles regarding improving listening skills and found that a few simple things can really make the difference in becoming an active listener. Tips include:
1. Make eye contact. Looking at the other person while they are speaking shows that you are engaged and paying attention to what they are saying.
2. Don’t interrupt. Allow the speaker to complete their thought while making sure you are focused on what they are saying and not on whatyou want to say next. 3. Reduce distractions. To help maximize your ability to focus on the speaker it’s helpful to remove the things that pull your attention elsewhere. Cell phones are particularly distracting, if you can’t ignore the chime of an incoming text or call without wondering about it, turn off the sounds, put it in a drawer or turn it off completely. 4. Tune into nonverbal cues. Often the speaker will communicate nonverbally with posture, gestures and expressions that help convey the story. Pay attention to these and be mindful of your own nonverbal cues. Yawning, eye rolling, looking around and checking your watch are all things that show you’re not interested and likely not listening. 5. Keep an open mind. You may not agree with what you’re hearing, but it presents an opportunity to learn another perspective. By keeping an open mind you can more fully empathize with the speaker. Empathy creates understanding which begets comprehension. While in the end you may still not agree, you will at least “get” where the speaker is coming from.
By active listening we engage the speaker in a way that makes them feel that they are the most important thing to us at that moment. To quote Dale Carnegie from How to Win Friends and Influence People: “Listen first. Give your opponents a chance to talk. Let them finish. Do not resist, defend or debate. This only raises barriers. Try to build bridges of understanding.”
Geoff Crane, owner of Papercut Project Management, sums up nicely the importance of listening in project management. Crane states, “We work with all kinds of people from different walks of life, we have to be able to understand them to get things done. It’s part of being a project manager. If we’re not listening and understanding we’re going to wind up in lots of trouble down the road.”
I really hope that face to face conversation doesn’t become a lost art to be replaced completely by technology. How sad that would be. Some of my favorite memories of times with friends and family involve just sitting around talking. Some of the best work I’ve done has been brainstorming around a conference table really listening to what others have to say. So, now hear this, I will never be ready to give up that kind of interaction! How about you?