Ask a straight question and hopefully I can get a straight answer, do you listen to your sponsor. Let me ask another way, do you engage with your sponsor. If the answer is yes, then this article is not for you but also you might succumb to the following, I listen to my sponsor when it suits me … or in other terms, I listen when I hear what I want to hear. The skills of ‘sponsor listening’ can be difficult to master and will, therefore, take time and patience.
Sponsor Listening means, as its name suggests, actively listening, that is fully concentrating on what is being said rather than just ‘hearing’ the message of the speaker. As well as giving full attention to the speaker, it is important that the ‘listener’ is also ‘seen’ to be listening to them otherwise the speaker may conclude that what they are talking about is uninteresting. Interest can be conveyed to the speaker by using both verbal and non-verbal messages such as maintaining eye contact, nodding your head and smiling, agreeing by saying ‘Yes’ or simply ‘mmm hmm’ to encourage them to continue. By providing this ’feedback’ the person speaking will usually feel more at ease andtherefore communicate more easily, openly and honestly.
Listening is the most fundamental component of interpersonal communication skills and let’s face it, the relationship between the project and the sponsor can often be fraught with mis-trust, lack of engagement and even lac of willingness. Listening is not something that just happens (that is hearing), listening is an active process in which a conscious decision is made to listen to and understand the messages of the speaker. When listening to a sponsor, ideally you should try to remain neutral and non-judgmental, this means trying not to take sides or form opinions, especially early in the conversation. Listening to a sponsor is also about patience that can include things such as pauses and short periods of silence should be accepted. Don’t get uncomfortable with such things and you should not be tempted to jump in with questions or comments every time there are a few seconds of silence. So what is success is all of this, one of the golden rules when engaging with you sponsor is not to get involved in disruption the other person time to explore their thoughts and feelings, they should, therefore, be given adequate time for that.
All sounds ideal but it is vital is managing relationship and the one between the sponsor and the project manager is one of those relationships that should not be under-valued. Appropriate responses to your sponsor can be both verbal and nonverbal. Here are some ways of keeping the connection without get drawn into the conversation
- Smile – Small smiles can be used to show that the you are paying attention to what is being said or as a way of agreeing or being happy about the messages being received. Combined with nods of the head, smiles can be powerful in affirming that messages are being understood.
- Eye Contact – It is normal and usually encouraging for the project manager to look at the sponsor and make eye contact. It can however be intimidating, especially for more shy speakers. Be sure to gauge how much eye contact is appropriate for any given situation. Combine eye contact with smiles and other nonverbal messages to encourage the sponsor.
- Posture – Posture can tell a lot about the project manager in interactions with the sponsor. The attentive project manager tends to lean slightly forward or sideways whilst sitting. Other signs of a project manager that is engaged with the sponsor may include a slight slant of the head or resting the head on one hand.
- Distraction – The project manager will not be distracted and therefore will refrain from fidgeting, looking at a clock or watch, doodling, playing with their hair or picking their fingernails. This is key to ensure that the sponsor is fully engaged and the relationship is been maintained.
- Remembering – The human mind is notoriously bad at remembering details, especially for any length of time. However, remembering a few key points can help to reinforce that the messages sent have been received and understood. Remembering details, ideas and concepts from previous conversations proves that attention was kept and is likely to encourage the speaker to continue.
- Reflection – Reflecting is closely repeating or paraphrasing what the speaker has said in order to show comprehension. Reflection is a powerful skill that can reinforce the message of the sponsor and demonstrate understanding.
All good stuff and worth the read I hope but practice always makes prefect. Try some of this out and see how it goes and be sure to let us know what you think by dropping a note to firstname.lastname@example.org.