We often perceive communication in its broadcast format. While not inaccurate the narrow focus of this definition creates severe limitations on the human capacity to effectively communicate. In their book (Adler & Proctor, 2007) the authors present a model for communication that includes internal noise, external noise, and the information of both the sender and receiver. While not directly addressing the concepts of noise reduction from this model Julian Treasure took the stage in 2011 to present a Ted Talk on listening better that has implications for project managers.
According to the PMBOK, “project managers spend most of their time communicating with team members and other project stakeholders.” This statement translates to a minimum of 51% of a project manager’s time being spent in the act of communicating. This also means that if someone were to create a Pareto Analysis based upon the actions of a project manager’s use of time one of the top items to address would certainly involve communication. This also means that any action that has an impact on improving the effectiveness of communication has a significant impact on the PM’s time and the overall project.
Incorporating conscious listening techniques advocated for by Julian Treasure include the technique of Receiving, Appreciating, Summarizing, and Asking (RASA) in the context of communicating with others (Treasure, 2011). This listening technique can significantly enhance a PM’s ability to manage team meetings. The non-threatening nature of this technique helps to create an environment of trust that will enable others in the meeting to bring forward ideas that can significantly increase the efficiency and effectiveness of the project. They will certainly reduce the amount of questions which occur after a meeting due to miscommunication and reduce some of the inefficiencies inherent in general communication.
The RASA process can also be beneficial when dealing with group conflict. Wilmot & Hocker advocated for applying a collaborative conflict management strategy (Wilmot & Hocker, 2007) and RASA falls right in line with creating this environment. Recognizing early stages of conflict is often difficult. I have met and worked with some professionals who didn’t recognize conflict until it was explosive. Others operated as though conflict was always occurring. These latter professionals believed that every conversation revolved around some conflict and so they encouraged a collaborative environment to prevent destructive conflict. I subscribe to the theory that conflict is natural and always occurring and therefore the concept of preventing conflict is quite an anathema. Regardless, conscious listening techniques of RASA create the space for productive conflict.
While we often think of communication in its broadcast form, communication very much involves the process of listening. As he concluded his Ted Talk, one of the things Julian was impassioned about what informing his audience to Live to Listen. Modern PMs need to understand how listening early and often is communication, and can save them from quite a bit of broadcasting their thoughts in the future.
Adler, R. B., & Proctor, R. F. (2007). Looking out/looking in. Australia: Thomson/Wadsworth.
Project Management Institute (PMI). (2013). A guide to the project management body of knowledge (PMBOK guide). Newtown Square, Pennsylvania.
Treasure, J. (2011, July). Julian Treasure: 5 ways to listen better | TED Talk Subtitles and Transcript | TED. Retrieved from https://www.ted.com/talks/julian_treasure_5_ways_to_listen_better/transcript
Wilmot, W. W., & Hocker, J. L. (2007). Interpersonal conflict. Boston: McGraw-Hill.