Audio: Listen, Understandhttp://michaelgreer.biz/podcasts/, Collaborate [Time-6:19, File Size-5.9 MB]
“Habit 5: Seek First to Understand, Then to be Understood.” – Stephen Covey in The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People
“Knowledge speaks, but wisdom listens.”– Jimi Hendrix
Professionals… especially the energetic, creative people you want on your project teams… can sometimes develop a mental image of themselves as essentially knights in shining armor, riding in to save the day! Unfortunately, this can sometimes mean that they jump to conclusions too quickly, seeking little input and assuming that the problem to be solved is just like one they solved the week before.
On the other hand, the best professionals employ a more consultative mental model: They see themselves as creative solvers of unique, challenging problems. They listen, question, and try to understand the customer’s needs. They test their understanding by rephrasing the customer’s statements. Then they formulate one or more potential solutions and present them carefully. In short, they “seek first to understand, then to be understood.”
Reflect on these questions:
- Have there been times when our team has “jumped the gun” and rushed to judgment without getting all the facts?
- Do we set aside time throughout the project to thoughtfully discuss our customers’ opinions about our work or our deliverables as they are evolving?
- Do we spend enough time actively listening (and rephrasing to show our understanding)?
- Do some team members avoid customer contact because it’s difficult (or frustrating) to listen to them? If so, how might we address this problem?
Ask your team:
- Under what circumstances is it difficult to spend time listening to customers?
- When was the last time you secretly wanted to hang up the phone or walk out of the room in the middle of a discussion with a customer? What could you do to avoid this situation in the future?
- How can we get better-quality input from our customers?
- What should we do (what kind of meeting or forum could we structure) to encourage our customers to provide high-quality input that we can really use?
Project Manager Challenges
- Make sure your project schedules allow for plenty of incremental input from reviewers and customers as the deliverables are evolving. (Consider formal “mini-reviews” of several iterations of the deliverables… i.e., concept papers, drafts, prototypes, test versions, final deliverables, etc.)
- Observe project team members when they interact with customers. Ask yourself these questions:
- Are they really “getting” what the customers are trying to say?
- Are they actively listening and rephrasing to check their understanding?
- Is our jargon or the customer’s jargon adequately translated so that each party understands what the other is trying to say?
- Is anyone “rushing to judgment” before all the information is in?
- Do team members truly empathize with the customer’s position? … their frustrations and fears?
- Make clear notes regarding any “sticking points” or areas of disagreement you observed, along with specific examples of the exact dialogue you observed among all parties. (Consider video or audio recording for later analysis, if the communication issues are particularly serious.)
- Brainstorm with the team members involved to come up with some suggestions for avoiding these communication difficulties in the future.
- Go to PhilosophersNotes and get the full notes and MP3 on The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People
- Get the full, 13-hour audio of The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, narrated by Stephen Covey, from LearnOutLoud.com.
- Check out The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey on Amazon: