The eXtreme Project Management™ Series: No. 9
Based on the forthcoming book:

eXtreme Project Management:
Using Leadership, Principles & Tools to Deliver Value in the Face of Volatility

by Doug DeCarlo, Principal
The Doug DeCarlo Group

COMMUNICATE, communicate, Communicate (Part 1 of 2)
Principles and Practices for Influencing Others

(This article has been adapted from the chapter entitled "How to Lead the Process: Principles, Values and Interpersonal Skills," from eXtreme Project Management: Using Leadership, Principles & Tools to Deliver Value in the Face Of Volatility, to be published by Jossey-Bass, October 2004)

eXtreme project management recognizes that projects are people, and not Gantt charts and templates (although these have their place). That's why "People First" is one of the ten Shared Values of eXtreme project management.

If projects are people, then communication skills (and not mastery of Microsoft Project) go to the top of the list of critical success factors for extreme project managers. In fact, my definition of an extreme project manager is one who manages the flow of thoughts, emotions and interactions in a way that produces a valued outcome. It boils down to relationship management, which in turn comes down to influencing people.

In this article, I'll cover two of the most powerful principles and practices I've encountered over the last 14 years in working with teams in the U.S. and abroad. They are:
  • The WIIFT (What's In It For Them?) Principle
  • Reflective Listening

To succeed, you need 360-degree communication capability, to be able to influence those above you and below you as well as those at your level.

I'd bet that most, if not all, of your communication is intended to influence behavior. Try this: Pay attention to the messages you put out over the next 30 minutes, both verbal and in writing. Ask yourself, who and what am I trying to influence with this message? Can you actually put out a neutral message, with no influence intended? And when you are not influencing others, take a moment to listen to your own self-talk. How much of that internal communication is aimed at influencing yourself? "Call so and so �" "Finish budget forecast..." "Lose weight �" "Talk to Brian about his sagging performance �" "Stop procrastinating �"

You need to influence people to give you resources, to show up at meetings, to follow a sensible project management process, to meet agreed-upon deadlines, to resolve conflicts over the project (its scope, budget, level of quality expected, schedule and business benefits), to make timely approvals, to make quick decisions to keep the project moving, and more. In fact, when don't you need to exercise influence?

We are always attempting to influence others and ourselves whether we like it or not. But too often, we only focus on whether we are getting our message across. We forget that the most effective communication is a two-way process. If you want someone to listen to you, the best way to establish the proper environment for that is to demonstrate that you are willing to listen to them. And how do you do that? By actually listening to them. Here are some principles and practices to keep in mind.

The WIIFT Principle
The WIIFT (What's In It For Them?) Principle is one of the most effective communication tools you have: You get what you want by showing someone how what you want can get them what they want. It means you have to get out of your own way and see the situation from the perspective of the other person. And how do you do that? You talk to the other person and listen. For instance, many project managers I know get frustrated because "My boss doesn't believe in project management, and I know we need it." I happen to agree with the boss. Why should she want project management? She's smart. What she really wants is what project management can do for her. So what's important to her? Getting her business objectives met faster? Reducing risk? Talk to her and really listen to what she says. Don't just assume you know what it is. Then, show her how project management can get her what she wants (not what you want).

Reflective Listening
Reflective listening, also known as active listening, means to mirror back (rephrase) the other person's position—and to do so with feeling, rather than just parroting. It doesn't mean you accept or agree with it. You are demonstrating that you understand where they are coming from.

When mirroring, care needs to be taken so that it comes across in an authentic and not a patronizing way. Examples of good reflective phrases to use are:
  • "I hear you saying �"
  • "Let me be sure I understand �"
  • "In other words �"
  • "If I got it right, you said �"
People love to hear themselves quoted and paraphrased.

Go to lengths to understand the other party before making yourself understood. Paraphrase back what the other person said until they are satisfied that you understand their thoughts and feelings. Stephen Covey, in the Seven Habits of Highly Successful People, put it this way: "Seek to understand before being understood."

Reflective listening, like other communication techniques, helps to establish rapport. And rapport opens the door to getting what you want. So practice your listening skills.

My recommendation: put communication skills at the top of your list to master. Consciously use every interaction—face-to-face, ear-to-ear and screen-to-screen—as an opportunity to practice good communication. It's your key to influencing others; an essential skill for today's extreme project manager.

In the next article, I'll cover four more communications and influencing principles and practices.

eXtremely yours,


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