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Effective Listening Techniques for Project Managers

written by: N Nayab • edited by: Jean Scheid • updated: 2/9/2011

Good communication skills very often make the difference between success and failure for a professional. The basis for good communication is good listening skills that improve job effectiveness and quality of interpersonal relationships. Read on for effective listening techniques.

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    Effective Listening Techniques The most effective listening technique is improving awareness of the need to listen properly. A normal human being remembers anywhere between 25 percent and 50 percent of what is heard, and the same holds true for project managers. What this means is crucial parts of the message remaining lost. For the project manager, this translates to failing to hear some crucial points regarding the status of the project, failure to comprehend the full extent of verbal suggestions and advice provided by team members, and improper comprehension of events. Understanding this fact and making a conscious effort to improve listening is the first step toward effective listening and thereby better communication.

    Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons

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    When looking at how to develop better listening techniques, here are some tips. The most effective listening techniques is concentrating hard, paying attention to not just the words of the speaker, but trying to grasp the complete message. The most common way a person loses concentration is when the mind wanders off to some other thoughts when a speaker speaks. Focusing the attention on the speaker, and repeating the speakers words mentally are effective tips to prevent the mind from wandering off and retain concentration on the speaker’s words.

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    One major reason for poor listening is the listener trying to form responses or counter arguments to arguments put forth by the speaker before the speaker finishes the speech, and thereby loses out on inculcating the latter portions of the speech. A good listener needs to make a concentrated effort of shutting the mind from such thoughts, and delay thinking about how to respond until the speaker has completed the message. Inculcation of better listening techniques toward this end requires considerable patience and mental mastery skills.

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    Avoiding Distractions

    The best way to promote better listening techniques is by avoiding distractions. The single biggest impediment to effective listening is distractions, which can be anything from mental thoughts to background voices. Regular scheduled meetings are a regular and critical part of a project managers' work, and project managers would do well to cut off all sources of distractions, such as external noise, and telephones from such meetings, and even otherwise when someone talks.

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    Dispensing with Assumptions

    One reason why people stop focusing on others speech is owing to the tendency to assume what the other person would say. People create bias, both positive and negative, and associate such bias with the intended speech even when the reality may be different. For instance, a project manager may assume that the trade union leader would always speak in favor of worker's rights, and with such assumption show less interest in listening to what he says. This is when the trade union leader may want to talk about some totally unrelated matter, such as providing feedback for a training program.

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    One good way to enhance listening skills is by providing feedback or providing the speaker with cues such as an occasional nod, smile and other facial expressions, assuming an open and inviting posture, and offering reinforcements such as “yes" or an “uh huh" occasionally. Most speakers remain uncomfortable and tend to reveal less when greeted with stony silence. Sending cues require paying attention in the first place.

    Another method of promoting effective listening skills through feedback is by paraphrasing “I understand that…" or “Sounds like you are saying that…" at the end of the conversation or at breaks. This clears misconceptions and helps gather from the speaker any point missed out at the first instance. When what the speaker said remains unclear, the best feedback approach is to paraphrase in questions such as “Do you mean to say that…"

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    Build Trust and Respect

    One way of promoting effective listening techniques is by building trust and respect across the project team. This requires approach listening and communication on a knowledge perspective rather than applying positional power or authority when listening, and focusing on the message rather than the speaker.

    A common mistake made by people across all levels is shooting the messenger, or reacting emotionally and attacking the harbinger of bad tidings. Such a posture not only impedes one’s listening ability but also has serious implications in the messenger conveying the correct picture the next time. Instead, candidness, openness, and honesty in response to the speech sends across the same message, but also generates respect.

    Inculcating effective listening techniques requires much effort and determination, but the benefits in terms of reduced misunderstandings and smooth and controlled execution of the project makes such efforts and determination worth it.