As project managers, we spend most of our at work time listening to other people. Here are the four questions I ask myself before every meeting to get myself into the right frame of mind to engage in either active or reflective listening.
A healthy ego is a critical asset in both business and IT. It can save our jobs, literally, when things fly apart. We have to believe in ourselves, sometimes to extremes, when the servers come down and the code just does NOT WORK in production. Otherwise we do what any sensible person would do; curl up in a ball and cry for help.
This crazy belief in ourselves serves us well in disasters. It is not, though, an asset during the quiet periods. Those periods of long, quiet work during which we learn, grow, and try to prepare for the next moment of greatness. Or not, depending on our point of view. Some environments try to ratchet up the tension all the time, just so that someone can always look like they have accomplished something great in the day.
Its during these times that I, personally, find my own craziness coming to the fore. I enjoy working as a PM and a senior, but sometimes I hear that little voice in the back of my head saying “You could do it faster”. Heck, even when I know I cannot do it faster, or better, I still hear that voice. It gets in the way, because when I'm listening to it I'm not listening to the person who I'm talking to.
Failure to listen is the first step in miscommunication. Technical folks, even technical project managers, are not always the best communicators. If we do not listen, and listen carefully, to one another things get lost. More importantly, other successful people who share that crazy spark which keeps us going, feel the lack of attention. They start to feel ignored, undervalued, and unappreciated.
So, what's a poor listener to do? In my case I ask myself four questions before I go into a conversation. These questions have become my mantra, something I repeat over and over again throughout the day.
Who am I really going to listen to, the person or my own inner voice?
What can I learn from this person by being brave enough to listen?
When will I need to accept help from this person again?
How can I tell this person that I believe in them as much as they believe in themselves?
Of the four, the last one hurts the most. I mean that in a lot of ways. It hurts a lot when I think I know better than the person I'm listening to. It hurts when I fail to ask it or when I fail to act on it during a conversation. It hurts when I do it, because sometimes it backfires. Believing in others takes a leap of faith on my own part, one which sometimes lands me in an adder-filled ditch.
Still, I'd rather give trust so that I can hopefully earn respect rather than feed my arrogant inner voice. Though it's not always easy, especially when....
..but that's another story.