Excellent communication skills are often touted as one of the key components of an effective project manager. This broad statement is vague and can be interpreted in so many different ways that it really doesn’t help differentiate leaders. If I asked you to break this down into behaviours what would you come up? I imagine you would focus heavily on the giving of information through a number of different channels, in a clear and concise way.  

I wonder how many of you would mention the receiving of information.  

One of the key components of successful project management is risk-reduction. We reduce risks by anticipating them ahead of time and putting plans into place that either remove the risk entirely or reduce the impacts should they arise. How do we anticipate risk? Through listening.

Listening is a really difficult skill. Often when we are in a conversation and it is our turn to listen, instead of tuning in and fully opening ourselves up to the ideas being shared, we are busy formulating our responses or anticipating where the conversation is going. We might have started problem solving, or questions might be popping up. In some extreme cases we might feel impatient and want to get to the point where we can speak. What we aren’t doing when this is happening is allowing growth and learning to happen.  

If we aren’t truly listening to the experts around us then we aren’t going to anticipate risk effectively.

The next time you find yourself in a conversation, whether on a project or just socially, try these steps and see where they lead you:

  1. Slow down...Take some full breaths. By slowing down we can prevent the need to ‘get to the point’. Notice your body in the space you’re in and connect first with yourself.

  2. Once you’ve connected with yourself you can be present for the person who is speaking. Take an open approach. Notice your thinking and let your thoughts disperse instead of reacting to them.

  3. When the other person has finished, ask if you can reflect back what you heard. Then summarize what you understood.

  4. Ask for feedback, did you fully understand? Did you miss anything?

  5. Once you’ve completed these steps discussion can happen and you can ask questions. Questions will allow you to get deeper. Keep questions open, avoid the temptation to explain or defend a position. Keep your opinions to yourself for now.

  6. Once questions and answers have come to a natural conclusion, ask if the other person would like to hear your perspective.

Notice that I include permission seeking in the conversation. This creates a safe space for really honest discussion. You're modelling good leadership by maintaining healthy boundaries and describing what you’re doing. By asking if your perspective is welcome you’re also making a clear statement that it is ‘only’ your perspective, which is by its nature subjective. Therefore, if it's in conflict with something that has been shared, you’re making it clear that there isn’t a ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ opinion. When we actively demonstrate that we are comfortable hearing and sharing views that are in conflict we open the door to real honesty.

If you’re interested in learning more I recommend the following links:

The Centre for Nonviolent Communication

Mindful Listening

Inclusive Leadership Skills


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