5 Steps for Becoming an Excellent Listener
Being a strong listener is essential to being an effective leader. Because Scrum Masters and other project managers lead developmental efforts and projects, they need the right skills to work with all the stakeholders involved on projects. They are the glue that keeps all the moving people and pieces together!
Without strong listening skills, a project manager can run the risk of their project unraveling and eventually a breakdown of the core team. Here are five ways to be an excellent listener and help your team deliver projects successfully.
1. Eliminate/Reduce Distractions
When someone comes to talk to you, give them your undivided attention. This means you shouldn't answer phone calls or text messages, send emails, or lend yourself to other distractions that take away from your discussion. You want to make people feel that you are listening and you can't fully listen if you are communicating with someone else while having a conversation.
Some Scrum Masters would take it a step further and close the door or find a room where no one else can interrupt the conversation. Most serious conversations only take a few minutes, so finding a private room where no one can find you shouldn't be an issue. Think of most conversations as a 15-minute break from your regular work, but always stay focused on the speaker — instead of putting yourself in situations to be interrupted.
2. Save Questions for Later
When a team member brings up an issue or wants to discuss an idea during a project, the first thing you should do is let them speak their mind before asking questions. It's tempting to interrupt someone if you already know the problem. It's also tempting to cut them short if you have an opinion, even though they haven't finished the explaining their point. Instead of jumping in, let the speaker explain their point and wait until they are finished to offer feedback.
This doesn't mean that you should avoid questions, altogether. As a matter of fact, questions show that you've listened and have an interest in the conversation, but always listen first and ask questions later. A good Scrum Master encourages feedback from their entire team.
3. Think About the Conversation, Not What You Want to Say
It's easy to jump to conclusions and say something after you've heard only a few sentences. It might take a few minutes for a team member to get to the point, so listen instead of jumping in right away. This is related to Step #2, but you could listen and still block out what's being said if you're just thinking of what you want to say. It's also important during project meetings to listen before chiming in.
4. Conversations Shouldn't be Confrontational
Part of being a good listener is approaching issues with an open mind and not pigeonholing them as confrontation. Whether it's a stakeholder or a contractor on the project, you should always approach an issue with a can-do positive attitude. This builds confidence with the people discussing issues with you and makes you the go-to person for solving problems.
Being the go-to person is a quality of both a good listener and a good Scrum Master. It's important as a manager to be empathetic to other people's concerns. You'll find that it's easier to listen when you have a genuine concern for your colleague's issues. You'll also find that more people will see you as approachable, which is a trait that all good project managers possess.
5. Take Time to Process Answers
Some conversations are difficult to digest. Sometimes you need time to process the information in order to make a decision. It's better to circle back with someone instead of making rash decisions. A good listener responds with legitimate questions and solutions. People won't talk to you if you respond just to say you did – worse still if your response includes bad information.
If you need to research or talk to someone else before answering questions, first get all of the information you need and then tell the person that you need to get back to them. This will demonstrate that you listened and that you took his/her concerns seriously. Nothing loses trust faster than answering concerns with poor solutions. It shows that you didn't listen and didn't care to find out the right answer.
Effective communication is key to any project's success. So, as a Scrum Master you must possess strong interpersonal skills — and being able to listen to your team's ideas, concerns, and feedback is crucial.
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