3 Tips for Becoming a Better Listener—and a Better Project Manager

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by Dave Wakeman

Project managers, first and foremast, are often considered as communicators. Early on, when I first received my Project Management Professional (PMP®) certification, I remember someone telling me that 90 percent of a project manager’s job was communicating.

The thing about communicating is that in too many instances we consider it to be about talking at or to people. But how much time do we really spend listening—far and away the most important part.

Listening should be one of your strongest strategic allies. It enables you to get on-the-ground information, allows you to tap into experts, and helps you to see the real role and value that the project can play in your organization.       

Here are a few ideas on how to make listening a bigger part of your communication strategy.

1. Be open and engaged to the feedback of your stakeholders. It’s easy to say that you are open to conversations and that feedback is something you want, but are you actually following through in a meaningful way with your stakeholders?

If we aren’t careful, it’s entirely possible that we say we want to hear from people. But in practice, we rush them, dismiss their concerns and quickly shuffle them off to something else.

You need to be present and open to conversations from your stakeholders and not attempt to end the conversations as quickly as possible. Your colleagues and stakeholders may not be able or willing to get to the point right away due to nerves, the need to come up with a new idea through conversation or some other underlying factor.

2. Ask questions. This goes along with being open and engaged. One of the key skills I have developed over the years as a consultant is the ability to use questions to uncover the real challenges at the heart of a situation. 

As a project manager, people will come to you with a conversation that is often built around pain.

“Our project is delayed.”

“Our teams aren’t working well together.”

“We don’t have the budget to complete this task.”

The real issue lies with one question: “Why?”

You must ask the questions that uncover the root causes of the pain that aren’t being spelled out in the conversation.

3. Keep an open mind. As a modern day project manager, you aren’t going to have all the answers. The beauty of the modern project is that everyone has a specialty that they are handling. They have unique experiences that they bring to the project and their point of view is going to be different than anyone else’s. 

Your job as a project manager is to harness that expertise and direct it in a manner that enables you and your project to receive the best possible benefit from all these experiences, experts and ideas.

To do that, you need to be open-minded, which means that you have to be careful not to allow your preconceptions overwhelm the information being presented in the conversation. You have to be open to the idea that new information will change the information you already have and the ideas that you have already formed.

If you keep these ideas in mind, you will be a better listener. If you are better at listening, you will likely be a better communicator—and this will make you a better project manager.

How have you developed your listening skills? 

BTW, if you like this stuff and the stuff I usually post, I do a Sunday email that talks all about value, connection, and humans. You can get that for free by sending me an email at dave @ davewakeman.com

Posted by David Wakeman on: September 06, 2017 11:09 AM | Permalink

Comments (21)

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Short and to the point.Thanks Dave!

Thanks for useful article.

Good food for thought, thank you.

Thank you for your article. Reminds me of Steven Covey' s Habit Nr. 5: "Seek First to Understand, Then to Be Understood". In his book he also puts a strong emphasis on listening ("The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People"). And nevertheless how often do I catch myself talking instead of listening. This article should accompany every project manager in every meeting. :-)

Very good points, Dave. So important for project managers to really listen but in my experience many PM's are so overwhelmed that they forget to take the time to intently listen. That includes me. One thing I've trained myself to do when in overwhelm and working fast to catch up is to repeat a matra "slow down to go fast" and "Pause, pay attention, and listen". . . Intention and attention has to come first, at least for me, before I can create the openness to listen. Thank you for opening a space for this discussion.

Crisp and to the point. Thanks

Great refresher, David. I have to constantly practice my active listening skills, acknowledging and paraphrasing along the way..

great article. Will always remember this.

Thks Dave for this awesome reminder. As PM we spend 90% in communication but we talk more than listen. You are advicing us to pay attention to active listening thus to non-verbal communition which is a great part in communication. After listening, i think we have to take action. As you said, action must be ask questions before acting. For me we have not only to ask the "WHY-WHY" but focus on the 4 W 1H: What, Why, Who, Where and How

Reminds me of the saying: you have two hears and one mouth - you should listen twice as much as you talk. Thanks for the reminder article on how important it is to be quick to listen and slow to speak!

Thank you for sharing. To listen more.

My teacher, when I was in school in my earlier stages of my life, always urge us first to listen to understand the problem, analyze it and then to speak.That was his first advice.Thank you.

My teacher, when I was in school in my earlier stages of my life, always urge us first to listen to understand the problem, analyze it and then to speak.That was his first advice.Thank you.

Thanks for the article

Thanks for the article

I really appriciate this articl. Communication is great need of a good project manager. The better you communicate with your team, stakeholders. Clients, Costumers the better stand of achievement you will have in your project.
Thank you Dave.
Adetokunbo Adewunmi

Yes, communication not always easy
Thanks great post

I really like these points.

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"Wise men talk because they have something to say; fools, because they have to say something."

- Plato