Project managers are in a unique position. On the one hand, we are responsible for managing the budget and timeline of a project. On the other hand, we are responsible for managing people and interpersonal communication. Letting one of these take precedence can lead to budgets blowing up and not holding people accountable for their work. It can also lead to people losing interest because they don’t feel like they are being valued or heard.
One of the most important skills you can learn as a project manager is actively practicing empathy. This is important for several reasons:
• Knowing and being aware of how your team responds to different situations will help you adjust your communication style to fit them best.
• Practicing empathy can help you read the non-verbal cues of your teammates and your client, helping you predict how conversations are going and course-correct if needed.
• Empathizing with your team will help build trust and camaraderie. Building trust will help you effectively communicate tough feedback and give you peace of mind knowing that you and your team members are all on the same page.
When I first started in project management, learning and working in a process was the main emphasis. While it helped achieve projects, there was a lack of human elements, especially when unforeseen issues in the project came up. When I sat down with different individuals to hear their frustrations and ideas, I found that it created a bond between us and showed my team that I was willing to listen and care. Though this initially took some extra time and effort, it ended up saving time down the road since we had developed an understanding of how my team worked and how I could more effectively manage projects with them.
Empathy is not an easy trait to learn, especially if it does not come naturally to you. The first step is to sit back and actively listen to what your teams say and how they’re saying it. In time, this will become a natural part of your work and will help grow your professional relationships and skills.
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