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Sunday, September 26, 2010

They're Not Listening to You

The project manager has been at this a long time, and he’s been frustrated for much of that time.

“I get to the end of my rope about once a week,” he said, “I go in there and tell my manager how screwed up things are and what needs to be done to make it all work. And you know what happens? Absolutely nothing!”

Meanwhile, at the other end of this relationship, things are fine. It all depends upon your perspective.

“Joe is a really good project manager,” his manager tells me. “But he’s kind of a worrier. He comes in here every once in a while with a list of problems. I let him unload for a while – then he goes back and finds ways to get the job done.”

So one sees a system that doesn’t work, while the other sees a cyclical ritual that is just a factor in a passable way of life.

This kind of relationship is not sustainable. When there are systemic problems, continued indifference at the management level results in progressive unhappiness at the working leadership level. It wears people down. If there is not a sudden explosion at some point, there is an erosion of productivity and/or eventual burnout.

The syndrome has countless scenarios in the workplace. It is pervasive. You wonder if any organization actually has clear understandings between the people who do the job and the people who manage the process and own the resources.

This is, of course, the famous “communication problem.” It comes up in conversation and complaint really, really often. There is reason for the impression that not only is it everywhere most of the time, but there’s really nothing to be done about it.

Well, the main reason nothing gets done is that no one does anything. We don't resolve basic communication disconnects because the real issue gets too little thought on all sides. More specific to project management: They’re not listening to you because you’re not talking to them. You’re talking to yourself. They just happen to be on the scene, providing an occasion but not a partner for the verbalization.

If something effective is ever to be done about this failing, let’s start with the project manager.

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