Project Practitioners > Are you listening to me or hearing me?

Are you listening to me or hearing me?

By Alfonso Bucero

Communication is a critical skill for project managers. Some leaders are able to listen to and other people are always hearing instead of listening to their membership.

Every time that I think about listening some images come to me regarding a common situation in a project between a project manager and a team member. The team member wants to talk to his project manager because he/she has a problem or an issue. The project manager meet him and say: Ok, I'm ready to listen to you. Please tell me about your problem. The team member starts speaking and the project manager does not switch off his cell phone and continues typing in his personal computer. The team member feels frustrated. Do you think that project manager is listening to him?

My answer is "NO", this project manager is not present. Are you familiar with that situation?

Some project managers do not spend enough time understanding how they communicate to his project team and rest of project stakeholders. Effective communication among team members is a key for project success. Because of time unavailability many people use written communication much more that verbal, but many times we are not conscious about body language communication is more than 65%.

I learned, over the years that not all project managers are conscious about the amount messages they may transmit to their people with his body language; and mainly how those messages may affect them positively or negatively.To communicate well and being a good listener is not easy but it is not impossible, it takes time, learning from your mistakes and practice, practice and practice. In my experience as a project manager I consider effective communication skills are a critical element in your career as a project manager.

We all need to use a variety of communication techniques to both understand and be understood. If we want to be effective we need to assess our communication skills periodically.Have you thought about what are your communication goals in the project you are managing?

Probably your goals are related to: change people behavior, or to get action, to ensure understanding, to persuade some team members or stakeholders or perhaps to get and give information. In any case you always will have some distortions in communications.There are several factors that affect the sender and the receiver in Communication.

For example when we talk about the sender we need to take into account willingness, time, location, cost/consequences, competition. When we talk about the receiver we need to take into account cost/consequences, role expectations, behavior consistency, sensitivity, timing, appropriateness, belief systems, motivating factors. What is true is that we need to improve our communication as 70 % of our communication efforts are: misunderstood, misinterpreted, rejected, distorted or not heard.Communication is a critical success factor, the majority of your perceived ability comes from how you communicate. 

Are you listening to me or hearing me? Based on my experience I use a questionnaire to assess my listening skills in a monthly basis. The questions are focused on your ability of being concentrated on what the other person is telling you and observing your behaviors or reactions. Based on the results from my assessment I prepare an improvement plan. I ask for feedback from my team.

In order to have good communication my best practices are as follows:

• Listen to Understand

• Understand before speaking

• Speak to be understood

• Seek understanding before proceeding

• Repeat

How can you improve your listening skills? I have some best practices to share with you as folllows.

• Recognition

• Not being judgmental

• Stop egocentric communication

• Prepare a plan to improve your listening skills

I said that BODY LANGUAGE is something that many times we use unconsciously, but a critical part of your communication skills is to understand better and better the Body language. Women are better observers than gentlemen. And practice is the key. Some of my observations when presenting, talking or leading a meeting are as follows. Please take them as my observations managing projects. They never are very accurate because depending on many environmental circumstances.

My observations are as follows:

1. I'm the boss: Interlacing your hands behind your head, while leaning back in a chair with one leg crossed, sends the signal that you feel comfortable and dominant. Only the senior person in a meeting should do this.

2. I know what I'm talking about: Steepling your fingers means you are confident and focused. 

3. I'm confident: Pointing your thumbs skyward means you have a positive outlook. It conveys both confidence and optimismI'm insecure. 

3. Hiding your thumbs: indicates that you're not very sure of yourself. Sticking them in your pockets also makes you look insecure.

4. I'm listening, comfortable and receptive: A slight head tilt exposes the neck, which people do when they feel they are in a friendly environment. This posture projects a sense of ease.

5. I'm uncomfortable and doubtful: Touching the neck shows that you are experiencing emotional discomfort or doubt.

6. I'm insecure and concerned: Covering the dimple at the base of your neck means you are fearful or worried.

I found some techniques that are working for me to improve my listening skills. Those are:

PARAPHRASE: Restate what was said in your own words

SUMMARIZE: Pull together the main points of a speaker

QUESTION: Challenge speaker to think further, clarifying both your and their understanding

In summary

• Effective communication skills are a critical element in your career as a PM

• We need to assess our communication skills periodically if we want to be effective

• The majority of your perceived ability comes from how you communicate

• You always can improve your listening and communication skills preparing an action plan

• Understanding body language is very helpful

• Learning and practice is the key


Today is a Good Day to start. For more details you can contact me at

Alfonso Bucero, MSc, PMP, PMI Fellow

Managing Partner

BUCERO PM Consulting


Not all comments are posted. Posted comments are subject to editing for clarity and length.

Well, I can't swear to 100% accuracy, Alfonso, but I cracked up when I got to "Covering the dimple at the base of your neck means you are fearful or worried." That's my stress gesture. ^_^ My family always knows I'm pondering something -- usually something work related -- when they see me sitting like that. Now I'm going to worry about whether I should develop a different worry gesture or just accept it. ^_^

Love this article. We need to become better listeners and observers. Well done.

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