Project managers: 5 ways developing exceptional active listening skills will help you achieve goals

Do you passively or actively listen to others? Here's what project managers need to know about the difference and the value of developing exceptional active listening.

manager actively listening

Image: iStock/Kritchanut

Active listening means focusing on what a speaker is saying to fully understand and retain their message before answering or sharing your thoughts. As a valuable interpersonal communication skill, it ensures you're able to engage in a relevant way and remember specific details without asking for repeated information.

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Actively listening includes these verbal and non-verbal skills:

Verbal

  • Paraphrasing
  • Asking open-ended and probing questions
  • Using short verbal affirmations
  • Sharing similar experiences
  • Recalling previously shared information

Non-verbal

  • Nodding or smiling
  • Maintaining eye contact and avoiding distractions

As a project manager, you play a vital role in understanding what's going on around you, and this requires having active listening skills. With exceptional active listening skills, project managers could gain these five benefits.

1. Valuable input 

Active listening allows you to improve your input. By staying focused on what the speaker is saying, you can answer their questions or provide meaningful input clearly. Many people still spend time thinking about what they would like to say and fail to let others finish their thoughts or conversations without being interrupted. This can be highly frustrating and distracting, and it can create additional confusion and frustration, reducing input value by all parties. By actively listening, all participants stand a greater chance of being productive in their communications because they can hear and retain key points.

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2. Stakeholder focus

Just as it's important to be heard, it's equally important for others to know they've been heard. This is essential for project managers because stakeholders will have information that's critical to the success of a project. Each project has a project team, customers, vendors, and other stakeholders that bring highly valued skills and knowledge. They will need to communicate with you about what's happening, issues and challenges, conflict, and other matters. Being able to keep stakeholders focused on the project-specific activities and conversations means you will need to be able to actively listen to the many conversations and work with each stakeholder to help them resolve issues and move things along in a positive direction.

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3. Stronger relationships

When you're able to listen to others' views and thoughts, you are more likely to foster stronger stakeholder relationships. Other stakeholders are more apt to want to come to you and work on relationships when they know you are interested in hearing them out entirely rather than seeking to overpower their input. Be humble and listen to the valuable information they bring to the table, and it will help build stronger relationships throughout the life of the project. Considering projects are 75 to 90 percent communication, strong relationships are essential, especially when dealing with your teams and customers. 

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4. Increased stakeholder buy-in

Stakeholder buy-in is highly dependent on how much they value and believe in the company, the project, and its leadership—the project manager. Project managers have a responsibility to keep stakeholders engaged, feeling involved, and valued. A significant part of feeling valued is being heard. You should understand their motivations, be transparent, and involve them in decision-making where relevant. Increasing stakeholder-buy-in involves reaffirming their goals, communicating progress throughout execution, and offering positive feedback. To do this, you will need to listen to what they say and understand the context of their input.  

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5. Achieving objectives

In the end, active listening makes goal attainment possible. How? When others have a chance to be heard without interruption, it also allows you to provide meaningful feedback. This, in turn, enables stakeholders to become more involved, focused on goals, and to buy into the project altogether. Relationships can become stronger, and you, as the project leader, can maintain a high degree of control over achieving objectives and where the project is headed as a whole. 

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By Moira Alexander

Moira Alexander is the Founder of PMWorld 360 Magazine and Lead-Her-Ship Group, and a project management and digital workplace columnist for various publications. Moira has 20+ years in business (IS&T) and project management for small to large busine...