This is part of a series of blog posts based on Language Action and how it applies to the project environment, and is based on the teachings of Fernando Flores and Chauncey Bell.  I have been a student of Fernando Flores in his Dwelling Program for the past year, and have been working and learning with Chauncey Bell for several years.

One of the most difficult skills for leaders to master is listening.  In our day to day lives we take listening for granted and for most of us we think of listening as something we just do, but listening is not something that we do, it is who we are.

As leaders, we are faced with making countless decisions every day.  The decisions we make are a direct result of the conversations we engage in and the possibilities those conversations present.  How we listen in our conversations shapes our understanding of those possibilities or leaves us blind to the opportunities they present.

The greatest influence on our listening is our individual history and the prejudices we bring to conversations.  Think about how often you have been perplexed by how two people can have a conversation and come away with a completely different interpretation of what was said and what action needs to be taken.  That is because our mood, historical experience, and our prejudices have an impact on how we listen to, and interpret, conversations.  I have observed many teams, projects, and even organizations who are paralyzed by this phenomenon.

As human beings, we cannot rid ourselves of our prejudices and it would be foolish, even harmful to try.  Our prejudices are based on our history and shape our unique view of the world.  As a result, our history is not just something that is behind us in the past, but it is ever present in the way we are interpreting the world around us and how we respond to what is happening in our world.  That present history is what influences our listening.

So, what does this mean for leaders trying to navigate the complex world called construction?  We must be aware of our own history and how it is influencing our current relationships and decision making.  I find that writing out my prejudices before I engage in an important conversation helps me become more cognizant of my history.  This awareness allows me to be more present, and less reactive in the conversation.  It helps me to slow down in the conversation and be open to the possibilities that present themselves – options, ideas, potential paths that I was not aware of and am in danger of becoming closed off to.

As leaders, if we don’t re-train ourselves to become skillful listeners, we are in danger of dominating the conversation with our history and closing ourselves off to the possibilities that collaboration with our team can produce.  Like athletes in training, we need to increase our understanding of the importance of listening through learning to engage in a routine that develops and practices the new skills we need, to cultivate around listening as leaders.  Leaders who successfully learn to listen in conversations have in turn more meaningful conversations that allow them to engage with others in a more powerful way, make decisions at a higher velocity, and empower teams to operate at a much higher level. 

Jason Klous is Principal at LeanProject and is a student of Fernando Flores.  Jason is currently working on a PhD in Language Action at Nottingham-Trent University in the U.K. with a focus on Language Action and the project environment.