I was in a small group for a Project Management course exercise this past weekend and noticed something interesting about being there.
I noticed that although I initially had very little to say about the task assigned to our group, I did have plenty to contribute simply by listening and being an audience for my fellow group members.
Too Many Chiefs
As the discussion progressed on the topic of defining the case study’s project scope, it became apparent to me that I was not going to gain anything by entering into the debate over what should and should not be included on our group’s paper.
What the group needed was not another opinion coming from yet another mouth, but instead the group needed an attentive person using a well-tuned ear that could synthesize all that was going on.
They needed someone to absorb the noise and filter out the quality information and ideas from all of the chaos.
Two Ears, One Mouth
So many times we try to influence by pulling people into our viewpoint by lectures and arguments. We flex our subject-matter-expertise-muscles when what might be more meaningful and productive is engaging people in critical thinking.
It’s like a mad parent giving a lecture to a know-it-all teenager. The information probably won’t sink in.
So rather than being “that guy,” I made sure that I was a better listener than contributor. As I sat and observed, I listened to my group members debate matters that were scant more than trivia.
For instance, they wasted much time discussing whether an idea should be included in a particular category or not. As they did this, I couldn’t help but notice that our time was running out and we were ‘stuck’ in the paralysis of analysis.
Throughout the session, I did learn some things that should help me in the future. Although I learned some things about project management scope definition that morning, I think the best take-away for me was the observation of how the various group members reacted to each other during the discussion.
- One member didn’t say anything.
- Two other members went back and forth debating the importance of one item over another.
- A fourth member opened the book and read out of the glossary to back up his point-of-view.
Leading With Clarity
In the middle of all of this, I just clarified and restated each person’s comments to make sure we were all on the same page.
And then I noticed something.
Suddenly all the team members began looking and talking directly to me when they spoke. They asked me to be our group spokesperson. They began to listen to each other. We all became willing to learn from each other and the rest of the class as we discussed the questions we had.
People just want to be understood.
The old adage ‘people don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care’ rings true today as much as ever. Listening to people and demonstrating that you hear their point of view is the first step in gaining their trust.
If you find it easier to talk rather than listen, try these 3 simple things:
1) Take Notes
Take notes of what people say–it is harder to jump in and counter someone when you are concentrating on writing. This also allows you to have something to go back to when you need to paraphrase or reflect a thought back to them.
2) Ask Questions
Ask questions instead of making statements. Seek to understand. Play devil’s advocate a little if you must but with the intention of opening up creative thinking paths and not shutting down someone’s ideas or opinions.
3) Use Timing
Offer to continue the discussion later if the present is not good. This shows people you are genuinely interested in what they have to say and not just adhering to a prescribed exercise with fixed boundaries.
You will learn a lot through listening and it will open doors to those discussions that really matter.
Do you connect more with ‘talkers’ or ‘listeners’? What are some other tips for listening well? Have you ever been misunderstood in your group? If so, how did you handle it?
Image Sources: 1.bp.blogspot.com, i.telegraph.co.uk