The Platinum Rule for Project Managers: Grateful Best Practices with Listening

By Dr. Tresia D. Eaves

(Blog 2 in the Series)

     What if we were treated as WE wanted to be treated rather than the way the retailer, business, supervisor, partner, or other party wanted to treat us – based on their own paradigms?  This is what the internet is bringing about right? When we search for something on Google, don’t ads get routed to us through various channels trying to sell us what WE want rather than what they think we want as they did before? This could also be transformational in business as a whole: performance management (you reward me in the ways I want to be rewarded, not some corporate standard based on what the company WANTS to give me) or in customer service where you give the customer choices, and they choose what works best for them. You are seeing great applications of this thought process in customer loyalty programs where people now have a choice of their rewards.

How do we make sure we KNOW how someone WANTS to be treated?  We LISTEN which is the main point of this month’s blog.  Now you may say, “Come on Dr. Eaves, of course I know how to listen…” but do you know the first question Judy Umlas asked me about this concept when she was deciding if it fit with the Center for Grateful Leadership?  She asked me HOW do we know how someone WANTS to be treated?  My use of all caps is not to yell at you so please do not misinterpret but I find that in the barrage of information we are all encountering on a minute-by-minute basis, I want to make certain that keywords really stick with you.

We show the most amount of appreciation when we truly listen to someone.  We truly acknowledge that we see them, we hear them, and that is a premium these days.  Paying attention by listening will give us parts of the puzzle to understand how someone wants to be treated.  They may say to us, “I feel like this is not going how I would have expected” and that is a great clue to be able to follow up with, “How would YOU have expected things to go in this situation” and then really listen.

Active listening was something I learned in-depth during my master’s work at the University of Oklahoma while studying human behavior, where we had to demonstrate that we learned to really listen. Since the track, I selected intersected with the professional counseling discipline (I studied Organizational Behavior), listening was key to success in this area of study. We practiced on each other in pairs and told stories, parroted back what we heard to make sure we had the major points correctly, and then listened some more or followed up with curious questions. In our example in the previous paragraph, perhaps the person gives us these four things they expected to happen during a project: that it would finish successfully, that their part would be done well, that they would receive praise for it, and that they would have hoped to have their successful performance be reflected in their annual review. So, when they say this to you, you should repeat the major points of what you heard and then ask questions like: since the project was cut early, what would you want to do next to try to highlight those same skills that would have led to your success in this project? Use good eye contact, open body language, and steady voice pitch as you offer solutions based on listening.

In the Grateful Leadership training, Judy Umlas, author of Grateful Leadership (2013) and The Power of Acknowledgment (2006), talks about how she herself, an evangelist for being genuine, specific, and timely with your acknowledgments and expressions of gratitude for people, can be guilty of anticipating a response as she listens.  On the other hand, she may be too hard on herself because as I watched her interview people on the streets of New York, she didn’t anticipate what they would say or try to “lead the witness” – instead, she asked the question and then stood back to let these folks respond. Listening without any other agenda allows us to honor the other person we are communicating with and that is why “Communication”, which includes listening, is one of the 5 “C’s” of Acknowledgment in Grateful Leadership (2013).

In consulting, it is imperative that we be able to listen to a client’s needs.  Sometimes that means reading the body language (eye contact, facial expressions, body posture, etc.) too and finding what is there inside the things they aren’t saying with their voice. For instance, we recently had a client that ended our contract early. The reason they gave was that we were not doing what they wanted us to do.  Our Statement of Work (SOW) was the key document to refer to in saying, these are the expectations we defined for this project – where do we need to make changes to have you treated the way you WANT to be treated.  And then listen. Ask more questions, “Tell me more about that…” and watch as they open up to tell you what you really need to know.

As I mentioned in the teaser for this blog post last month, the environment has to be right for listening as well.  No phones, TVs, radios, etc., and make sure you are in a place where you will not be disturbed.  A hallway or public lobby is not the best place to pay attention to all the signals someone is giving in a communication. Active listening means your undivided attention is on that person.  Paying your full attention to someone is also a powerful way to say, “You are important to me and what is happening right now is my top priority” which will help the person feel more confident and comfortable to open up, especially if it is a difficult conversation.

Next month, we will cover the complex topic of Leadership using The Platinum Rule for Project Managers. We will explore how people want to be led and how do we know how they want to be led?  We’ll examine listening to hear if they need you to teach them specific skills, do they want you to mentor them, do they want you to use scenario-based learning, or recommend a book list and discuss each book with you over time? We’ll explore how your communication style changes based on what your team member needs versus the way you were always taught to communicate.

Dr. Tresia Eaves has 30 years of technology consulting and Information Technology leadership experience.  She is also an author, instructor, public speaker, and proud veteran of the US Air Force.  She earned her Ph.D. in 2020 from the University of North Texas, and her area of study was Information Science. Dr. Eaves is a published author with her book, “Above and Beyond: The Secrets of Outstanding Project Leadership” published in 2014 by IIL and multiple other articles in professional and academic journals. She resides in Grapevine, Texas with her family. You can reach her at [email protected] or find her on LinkedIn at: