8 Steps for Better Listening
In my last post, I discussed the benefits of learning to listen. Here, I will share easy, actionable steps to help develop your listening skills. While going through the steps below, please remember, listening more and talking less are two sides of the same communication coin.
What is your top tip for becoming a good listener?
Read PMI's The Essential Role of Communications to learn more about effective communication.
"You cannot manage what you cannot measure" is a common mantra of today's business world. But to really make a difference on projects, you also have to make sure you're measuring -- and communicating -- the right things.
A policy introduced to measure the performance of our local hospitals a couple years back offers a salient lesson. Our state government decided to incentivize hospitals by rewarding good performance and penalizing poor performance using a standard set of KPIs.
The plan created many vested interests:
But an audit found KPI-induced behaviors, in many cases, were worse for patients than if nothing had changed in policy.
For example, one key measure was the time patients wait in the casualty/emergency area before being admitted to the hospital. So to avoid a fine for failing to admit the patient within the prescribed maximum time, some administrators were transferring patients from emergency care to the operating theater's waiting area.
The action meant a reduction in the level of care, with the patient being moved to an area with little monitoring capability. Throughput in the operating theater was also diminished due to overcrowding and skilled staff having to spend time on patient care rather than surgery.
The government had its data and the hospital system responded to the stimulus of the KPI, but everyone forgot the key objective: enhanced patient care.
There are a number of important lessons in this story to consider when setting up project dashboards and the like:
Simply identifying a problem and creating a KPI is not enough! Work with the project team to make sure an effective solution is crafted and then measure the effectiveness of the solution. This is far more challenging than simply processing monthly reports on easily accessible information such as schedule performance, but it can really contribute to the overall performance of your organization.
Finally, remember that if you pick the wrong KPI, you will get behavior changes, often times for the worse. It's better to have an informed conversation with key stakeholders over value and what really matters.
What messages are you sending with the metrics you choose to measure success?
As project managers, it's easy to get caught up in the technical aspects of our jobs. For example, if you are in IT, there is always a new bit of code, application or hardware that -- if you invest the time in learning about it -- will make your work easier.
But I'd like to share the number-one way you can actually improve your project management skills -- and it won't take days of learning a new technology or software. It's by using communication skills you already have in a more focused, conscious manner.
With these three tips, you can do a better job of managing the aspects of communication that you can handle -- making the aspects you can't always control a little easier to navigate.
Read PMI's The Essential Role of Communications to learn how effective communication impacts the success of your projects and programs.
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:
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 Professionâ„¢ In-Depth Report: The Essential Role of Communications.
I have become an ardent advocate for "the law of reciprocity" -- the principle that when you do a favor for someone, he or she will have a deep-rooted psychological urge to do something nice in return. And I believe it should be consciously practiced within the work culture.
Reciprocating to a goodwill gesture is one of the universal rules of good manners. It is a principle that comes naturally to many of us despite our culture. Organizations and businesses are now capitalizing on this principle to build relationships internally with their employees and externally with clients and customers. Reciprocity exists in many different ways, such as:
So how can a culture of reciprocity help projects and those who work on them?
Employee psychology surveys and studies have found a positive relationship between supportive organizations and employee commitment to the organization. These employees often also showed willingness to help the organization reach its goals. What's significant from these findings is that as reciprocity as a whole increased, so did employee obligation.
Commitment and obligation to pursue project goals is ideal for project managers and project-orientated organizations. Therefore, creating a reciprocating project environment can only deepen individual and team commitment and ownership of tasks and concern for the project. It can also help increase individual satisfaction and team motivation as individuals feel supported, valued and connected.
Project leaders can utilize the law of reciprocity by engaging and encouraging feedback from team members, and then using the information to create well-defined and simple processes or provide the means to make their work efficient. By removing unnecessary obstacles and demonstrating an active interest in wanting to help, leaders send a clear message to the team that its time and views are respected and valued. In return, team members may feel more obliged to reciprocate these efforts and show willingness to support the project and the manager during difficult circumstances.
Reciprocity with project sponsors and executives can pay dividends for a project manager as well. A sponsor may become more willing to support the project manager in pivotal matters, such as acquiring resources and approval processes. And being in a reciprocal relationship allows project staff to say no to requests without angering or offending stakeholders -- with good relationships, there is more understanding and forgiveness for when things go wrong.
Beyond project teams and stakeholders, reciprocity should be exercised with clients, customers and vendors. This is good for projects as it helps develop robust, long-term relationships rather than one-time engagements. And these relationships are especially useful when negotiating for resources, contracts, deadlines and finance-related matters.
But beware of how you approach reciprocity. It should be informal and without expectation of return in a specific situation or by a specific date -- otherwise it becomes a bribe, something negative and undesirable. Reciprocation should be carried out with sincerity, generosity and integrity.
Can you think of a time when you used reciprocation to help with project work?