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Is your project a good listener?

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Ann Pilkington good listerner.jpg

Has your project got the balance right between send and receive? Good communication starts with the ability to listen.

New research on listening in organisations suggests that there is a listening spectrum against which organisations – and of course projects - can assess their listening maturity.(1)

  • Passive: more opportunities for passive listening to check what people are thinking and feeling
  • Active: leaders showing that they are aware and responsive to needs of employees
  • Sensitive: opportunities for people to talk about how they are feeling
  • Deep: listening exercises that can result in a change in the way that the organisation does things

The report authors suggest that an organisation with processes in place to listen to employees right across the spectrum is going to experience better levels of engagement, advocacy, trust, innovation, resilience, learning and wellbeing.

If we substitute ‘employees’ with ‘project stakeholders’, then exactly the same applies.

At one end of the spectrum is passive listening – this is more rational, more what we do as business- as-usual, but for change projects we need to make sure that our listening is also happening at the opposite end of the spectrum – deep listening which is checking for emotions and attitude to change.

So how do you assess your project against this spectrum?

  • Passive: you might be running surveys to hear what stakeholders are saying
  • Active: you are understanding and responding, listening to the reasons behind opinions
  • Sensitive: you are giving attention to psychological needs and safety, listening up to that stakeholders feel free to speak up
  • Deep: you are listening to synthesize perspectives and come up with new insights and ways of working.

The research also helps us to think about how we listen to stakeholders when, because of COVID-19, so many are remote and working online.

In the current climate projects may need to create more opportunities for passive listening, which is important for keeping a ‘finger on the pulse’ of how people are thinking and feeling. For example using survey tools.

More active listening will be needed, for example through informal listening forums, sentiment analysis of social media. Leaders can show that they are aware and responsive to the needs of stakeholders.

Opportunities for sensitive listening are more important when stakeholders may be concerned for their health and their jobs. This could be through line managers or communities for practice for example.

Finally, while deep leading is important, it is perhaps the harder one to shift to the online environment. However, ways can be found to translate face-to-face listening through solution groups, conferencing into the online environment. Just ensure there is diversity of input, openness, curiosity and equal voice between project and stakeholders.

(1)  Who’s Listening Report 2020 co-authored by Dr Kevin Ruck, Mike Pounsford and Howard Krais with the support of the International Association of Business Communicators Foundation.

Read more blogs from Ann on the APM blog, including We may be in uncertain times, but we can still have a comms plan – a guide to adopting a fully agile approach to communication planning.



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