Join Doug Rose for an in-depth discussion in this video Listening actively, part of Project Management Foundations: Communication.
Have you ever been to the grocery store at the end of a long day? As you push your cart through the aisle you can hear a voice going through shopping specials. It will sound something like, "Do you need tomato sauce? "If so, we have a special sale on all sauces "in aisle six, aisle six." After about five minutes the words start to disappear. If you're there for hours, then you'll stop hearing anything. It'll just be background sound. "[Mommie], we have a clean-up on aisle thirteen! "Aisle thirteen!" There's some danger that this can happen with the sounds in your project.
The more people you hear talking, the more it starts sounding like that grocery store announcement. As project managers, there's a lot we can do to improve how we talk to others. But talking is only half of communication. To communicate, you need to listen. There are different types of listening. With your project, you need to extract all the information you can when someone is talking. So you want to use a technique called active listening. Active listening is a technique to extract the clearest message from other people. It also require less patience than waiting and listening.
That's why this technique is especially good for project managers, who usually don't like to quietly wait. Active listening is about doing three things when someone is speaking. The first is, rinse the message of content that is not relevant. The second is, remix the message by rewording what the person said. And finally, repeat the message back to the sender. Message rinsing is tricky. It means that you have to remove everything that is irrelevant. It also means removing items that are irritants.
When you're listening to people, you'll often hear a lot of different topics. Sometimes it will be like a lot of that extra background noise, or it might be technical terms that can hide the real problem. This extra content might be funny or interesting, but irrelevant. It's important to remember that relevant content is the essential part of why someone is talking. I once worked on a database migration project. One of the engineers pulled me aside and said he was the only person who knows the structure of the old database.
Then he went on to say that the old database had nearly a decade of critical data. Then he pointed out that the new engineers that I had hired were not skilled enough to understand the old system. Finally, he said that he couldn't help with the test migration over the weekend, because he was coaching a Little League team. The engineer was mixing concerns, statements, and requests. He talked about his concerns, like how he felt the old data was very important, then statements, like how the new engineers were inexperienced, and finally the request, "Can we move the test migration to another weekend?" As a project manager, you have to rinse away all the outside information and focus on the reason the person is talking.
It's basically a rescheduling request. This can take a lot of discipline. People may also bring up items that may be annoying, like "What do you mean, "the engineers I hired are inexperienced?" Don't get pulled into different topics when you're listening. Stay focused on the reason the other person is talking. After you rinse the information, you should remix it so that it makes sense to both you and the listener. You might have noticed in the previous conversation the engineer didn't actually ask to reschedule the test migration. He just presented you with a problem.
He said he'd not be able to do the test migration because he's coaching. So now you have to remix what the engineer is saying. Reply, "Are you asking me to postpone "the test migration to another weekend?" Then wait for the response. Sometimes it will come back clear. Maybe the engineer was saying he could only work in the evening. Remix the information until the listener and you settle into agreement. The remix part of active listening is where you clear up and add information to what the other person is saying. After each remix, you're clearing up assumptions and clarifying the question.
The final part of active listening is to repeat the rinsed and remixed information. So what I might say is, "Are you asking me "to postpone the test migration "to later in the evening that weekend?" If the person responds to the repeat by adding more information, then make sure you still rinse it away and remix it and repeat it. With active listening, at least you have an active understanding, then you'll be in a better position to respond.
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- Using formal and informal means to communicate
- Prioritizing stakeholder needs
- Listening actively
- Planning project communication
- Understanding leadership language
- Writing clear and concise project reports
- Learning how and when to say "no"<br><br>
- The PMI Registered Education Provider logo is a registered mark of the Project Management Institute, Inc.