Hone Your Listening Skills

In a recent blog post and comment, Hal Macomber said, “Listening is one of the foundational skills of project managers. Without a high level of competence at listenting projects are doomed to drift. Given the general characterization by wives that husbands don't listen, anytime we have project managers who are men we have a potential breakdown.”

It's not really about spouses; this lack of listening occurs when we either are planning our next statement, or when we're convinced we're right; or when we don't care what the other person says. There are probably even more reasons.

But, if we think agile methods are important, or working with people is important, or just plain getting the requirements right is important, then our listening skills are critical.

If you're a writer or a tech support rep, you already know this. You've probably honed your listening skills. The rest of us, the developers, testers, project managers, people managers — we need to consider how to hone those skills.

When you practice active listening, you:

  • Listen with attention. Stay in the moment. Don't think of other things you need to do or say.
  • Wait for the other person to express him or herself. Don't plan what you're going to say before the other person is done speaking.
  • Check that you heard what the other person meant to say, “Did you mean [such-and-so]?”
  • Summarize what you heard, “Ok, so you want the product to take input from the screen and the keyboard?”

Listening to what other people on the project say is key for everyone on the project. How do you listen?

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