Two of the most frequently raised questions in online project management discussion groups are: “Is project management more science than art?” and “Which is more important to succeed in project management – hard or soft skills?”
The usual consensus with such questions is that while one cannot ignore the need to develop a solid foundation of hard skills (the “science”), the lack of soft skills (the “art”) will be a hurdle blocking the career progression for most project managers.
In the pantheon of soft skills, active listening is a powerful method of proving the authenticity of your interest in what someone is saying and feeling, both of which are critical to gaining trust.
Active listening embodies the name of my blog – simple in theory but not easy in practice.
Our ability to focus on anything for more than a few seconds is impacted by a variety of distractions. Unhealthy levels of multitasking combined with the siren songs of smartphones, e-mail and other technology-driven “enablers” have made it too easy for our minds to drift even when we are sitting right across from someone. Our lack of focus becomes evident to the other party, and they tune out of the conversation.
How can we improve our ability to actively listen?
Set yourself up for success by minimizing the sources of distraction when holding important discussions. Book a meeting room instead of an open area. Mute and turn off the vibrate mode on your smartphone. If you are taking notes, don’t keep your screen up or your notebook open the whole time and exploit lulls in the conversation as your opportunity to document what you have heard.
Schedule discussions at a time when you are less likely to experience a wandering mind. Don’t book meetings back-to-back as you are more likely to spend the first few minutes of each meeting recalling the previous one, not to mention the stress of rushing from the last meeting.
Recognize when your mind is wandering and gently bring yourself back into the conversation. Exercises in improving mindfulness can help to increase your focus over a longer time.
Whether or not you believe that commonly quoted statistic of 93% of communication being non-verbal, I’m sure you will agree that accepting everything you hear as the truth is likely to get you into trouble. Active listening is your key to resolving issues, unlocking motivations, and understanding hidden agendas.