Viewing Posts by Jorge Valdés Garciatorres
The Art of Active Listening
"To listen closely and reply well is the highest perfection we are able to attain in the art of conversation."
-- FranÃ§ois de La Rochefoucauld (1613-1680)
Interpersonal skills are crucial to project management. There's a lot of literature about them, even a section dedicated to them in A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK® Guide)--Fifth Edition. Still, some of us think it is too much work to improve on an interpersonal level.
I believe that good interpersonal skills can transform you into a "WOW!" project manager, as U.S. business management writer Tom Peters would say.
In my view, one of the most challenging interpersonal skills to develop is communication. And communication is equal parts listening and speaking. However, I would say it's twice as important to be a good listener than a good speaker. Greek philosopher Epictetus said: "We have two ears and one mouth so that we can listen twice as much as we speak."
Being an active listener is not easy. I think it is more art than skill, so I often encourage my colleagues to review and use this checklist every time they have an important meeting with stakeholders and team members. It includes five elements; if you try to work on one at a time, you will end up becoming an active listener:
That's what I try to put in practice to be better at my listening skills, although I recognize it is very difficult and usually this takes a lot of conscious effort and self-discipline.
Do you have more tips to add to this checklist on how to become an active listener?
"People do not care how much you know until they know how much you care."
--John C. Maxwell
Have you ever heard your project manager say something like "I'm not here to make friends; I'm here to get things done"? This is known as extrovert management.
On the other hand, some project managers manage more as an introvert. They are less aggressive and more passive in their approach.
There is a range of assertiveness, which can be understood as a person's tendency to actively defend, pursue and speak out for his own interests.
Assertiveness is a key point for a leader's ability to achieve results, according to a 2006 study from researchers Daniel Ames and Francis Flynn. They found that our natural tendency to focus on negative information suggests that the costs of low or high levels of assertiveness may often outweigh the benefits in the eyes of observers.
So what is the best approach to assertiveness in the context of project management? It depends on the project.
Perhaps the bottom line is to develop our ability to cover a wider range of assertiveness and adjust our behavior to the context of the project.
For instance, on short-term projects, being more assertive will give us the ability to achieve results. But on a large project, the best approach might be more moderated in assertiveness to build good relationships with our team, which allows us to collaborate productively in the long run.
Which kind of project manager do you prefer? And which kind of project manager are you?
"Get mad, then get over it." --Gen. Colin Powell, USA (Ret.)
Generally, people consider anger to be a negative emotion. But it doesn't have to be.
Let's review the positive side of anger:
Anger can benefit relationships.
Many of us are told to hide our anger, but doing so could be detrimental to your relationships.
For example, if you're angry because of a mistake that a project team member has made and you don't speak up, he won't know that he has done something wrong. He will probably keep doing it and enter into a vicious cycle.
On the other hand -- if justifiable and aimed at finding a solution --expressing dissatisfaction can strengthen relationships. Such honest communication can help solve problems among stakeholders and build cohesiveness into your team.
Anger can motivate.
Anger can prove to be a powerful motivation force, helping you "go the extra mile" and keep working despite problems or barriers.
For example, if you're criticized for your work, you may feel further motivated to do better because you are angry and want to prove that you can improve your level of performance.
In project management, if we are able to produce what is called "positive anger" in our team, they will be more motivated to achieve results. But don't make a team member mad just for the sake of it. Find the right words to push them in the right direction.
Anger can indicate an optimistic personality.
Ironically, happy people have something in common with angry people. Both tend to be optimistic.
Take the study of risk management, for example. Dr. J.S. Lerner, professor of public policy and management at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government, found that angry people expressed optimistic risk estimates. Estimates of angry people more closely resemble those of happy people than those of fearful people.
It's okay to get mad, but always behave professionally and treat people respectfully. Don't let wrong behavior undercut a right message.
At the end of the day, we're all human. We all have feelings, one of which is getting mad. Use positive anger when you can. Above all, be able to communicate when you're angry in a way that doesn't undercut your message.
Have you ever used anger in a positive way in your projects?
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"A pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity; an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty." -- Winston Churchill
About 100 years ago, Ernest Shackleton was looking for a crew for a challenging project: to produce a map of the South Pole. It is said that he published an ad in the local newspaper looking for team members with creativity, a good sense of humor and technical skills.
Fast forward to the present day. Dr. Martin Seligman, director of the Positive Psychology Center at the University of Pennsylvania in the United States, is the founder of positive psychology, which focuses on the study of such things as positive emotions, strengths-based character and healthy institutions.
Dr. Seligman theorizes that in order to choose people for success in a challenging job, you need to search for aptitude, motivation and optimism.
This "explanatory style" theory, which indicates how people explain to themselves why they experience a particular event, can be applied to teams, too, according to Dr. Seligman. He based his hypothesis in three basic predictions:
If everything else remains unchanged, the individual with a more optimistic explanatory style will succeed. This happens because he or she will try harder, particularly under bad circumstances.
The same thing should hold true for teams. If a team can be classified by its level of optimism, the more optimistic team should achieve its goals, and this will be more evident under pressure.
If you can change the style of the team members from pessimistic to optimistic, they will achieve more, particularly under pressure.
The next time you need to pick a project team member, consider their optimism in addition to his or her technical competencies.
How do you choose your team members? What characteristics do you take into account when integrating members to your team?
Read more from Jorge.
Read more about teams.
"Advertising is fundamentally persuasion, and persuasion happens to be not a science, but an art." -- Bill Bernbach, founder of Doyle Dane Bernbach, an ad agency
Starting a project is not always easy. It requires resources and changes the status quo, so there can be a lot of obstacles until you hear "yes" to a project.
That's why you need to know how to effectively persuade your stakeholders to get on board with your project.
Dr. Alan H. Monroe's motivated sequence pattern, created in the 1930s, is useful for doing so:
1. Attention: Capture your stakeholders' attention with an interesting opening statement, or share a statistic related to your project.
2. Need: Identify the need that your project will address and share it with your stakeholders. The more information you have about the business needs, the better the chance your project is approved.
3. Satisfaction: Let stakeholders know how your project will satisfy the identified business needs. In detail, describe the approach you'll use in your project to address the needs.
4. Visualize: Explain the 'perfect world' that will exist after the project has finished. Make it as vivid as possible -- explain how it looks, sounds and smells. Be very energetic and enthusiastic when you explain.
5. Action: Tell them what you need them to do. Let them know specifically what steps you are taking to achieve the vision you've just shared.
The sixth element I would add is to tell a story to help you make your point. It could be real or it could be fictional, but remember that people are more likely persuaded when they hear or read a story that transports them. If a story is told well, we get swept up and are less likely to notice things that don't match up with our everyday experiences.
Use your creativity -- find your own way to mix all of these elements and you can build a powerful tool to persuade even the most demanding stakeholder.
How do you reach and influence your stakeholders as people, not just businesspersons?
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