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As a project manager, I think it's important to be heard. I find that many times, even when just meeting people, I am getting interrupted mid sentence. Can anyone out there provide tips on how to grow past this? I'm not sure if it's a natural reaction to a personality trait or fixable. Love to hear any tips to cure this problem.

10 Answers 10

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If you need to learn how to be heard.

You need to identify how to communicate in context.

Who can we learn from that is great at this? What draws people in? Am I going to answer your question? Practice telling stories to children. If you can train yourself to speak with interesting facts and the right words, tone, and phrasing (like successful children's shows do) you will have hit the right way to keep interest.

Children? Seriously? Yes. Tell me, do more people have a hard time getting children to pay attention, or adults?

This is, of course, only the surface of this. You have a lot to do, and even I am not an expert. Check out your local Toastmasters club, try to find ways to talk about boring mundane things as if they're interesting.

Once you master being a good story teller, that really only gets you up to people wanting to hear the next thing you say. Effective communication is another ball of wax that you could write a number of PhD-level papers on, but we don't need to get that complicated.

Look at people who are great public speakers, people we like to listen to.

What did they do? Why did people listen to JFK? Why did they listen to the Nazi and Soviet propaganda? Why did they listen to Obama? Why aren't people listening to the most logical, profitable, and obvious ideas? How do these unsuccessful people tell stories? How do you tell stories?

If you need to organize/gather ideas

You need a system to manage this.

It can be a complicated computer system, or just a few scraps of paper. What you need to do is have each "idea unit" contain what the idea is, what it's going to change, what the change will result in, and how we get to the change. After this, we can evaluate if the resultant change is valuable, and explore methods to get there.

Bureaucratic systems are helpful, only if you use a light touch. If you start requiring pages and pages of data for a single concept, it won't work and you'll be stuck in your own mess of red tape. Keep it very simple, an "idea unit" shouldn't require more than one or two sentences for each of the three requirements I mentioned above.

Lets give two examples of idea units:

Website colour:

  • The website is green and yellow.
  • We will hire a web designer.
  • Lets change the website to black and yellow.

Process change:

  • We are using the waterfall development method
  • We split up the team into design, programming, testing and review segments.
  • We need to switch to Agile

This means there is nobody to "listen to," you can simply refer to the idea unit, and talk directly about it without having to get side-tracked from your "How do I get A into B" discussion.

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Do the people who are interrupting you respect you? Do you respect them? It sounds to me like neither side is listening to the other. Try listening to them first, let them say their piece, then say yours. People will respect you if you respect them first.

As a project manager, I think it's important to be heard.

I would argue this the other way. As a project manager, it's important to listen to your team. If they feel that you are listening to them, their concerns and their ideas, then they will listen to you. If not, there is nothing you can do to "be heard".

  • 2
    +1 I'm glad you pointed out the "listening" part. This is so easy to forget. – jmort253 Mar 9 '11 at 7:14
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When it comes to being heard, I’ve found that the more you can formalize the setting (podium, projector, agenda) the more seriously what you have to say will be considered. You can try repeating what you're trying to say, like a broken record until it's obvious to the (not) listener that they are being rude an interruptive. You might also consider a short course in public speaking or joining a local Toast Masters group to pick up a few ideas on better making your point.

Meeting dynamics are interesting. You can count on consistent behaviors, good or bad, from the folks you interact with on a regular basis.

Lastly, it's better to be a good listener, although it's unfortunate that not many people make an attempt at it.

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    HI Bob, I like your answer a lot. Good listening skills will get you far, if you want to be heard. – Geo Feb 16 '11 at 12:15
  • Good answer. And meeting dynamics are very interesting. You can learn alot about controlling a meeting. There are a lot of techniques for this. The Exceptional presenter is a great book on this subject. – richard Feb 18 '11 at 3:36
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I'd interrupt right back with "Sorry to interrupt, but let me finish my thought and then we can talk more about yours." In my experience, most people who interrupt aren't particularly aware that they're interrupting. By apologizing, you're acknowledging that this is an interruption while also indicating that they first interrupted you. All without looking like a jerk, which can easily happen if you start huffing about being interrupted.

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  1. Speak in shorter sentences.
  2. Break down your ideas into smaller components and communicate only those, in order.
  3. Don't mix statements of fact with questions. Either make a statement or ask a question.
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    Consider adding #4, pause between your sentences. At first they will still interrupt, but after they realize you are giving them a time to comment after your statement, they will fall in line. It has other benefits too. Since you're going to pause, long nuanced explanations that tend to distract from the main point are discarded. – Edwin Buck Sep 11 '12 at 22:35
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Ground Rules

Every project will have some basic rules that everyone have to follow. In my experience if you construct the ground rules in a vacuum they will not be as effective if you come to a meeting and ask them, let's have some basic rules for all our meetings. I am sure other people get bothered by the same behaviors.

Examples of Ground rules are:

  • No cell phone calls while in meeting
  • No talking over each other
  • Challenge ideas respectfully while in the meeting
  • Use the parking lot for items outside the agenda
  • etc.
  • Looks like someone's a manager-tools.com fan! – bbrown Jan 24 '12 at 20:15
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Talk less, and don't say anything unless it's both meaningful and important. Listen more. You will learn more and people will listen more to you. Then you can easily retake control of a meeting, conversation, whatever, because people will stop to listen to you.

If you try it you will see that 90%+ of what most people say is useless.

  • I've seen this work. It's my favorite approach when I'm running a construction meeting. That being said, it works best when you are in a position of authority at the meeting, which I suppose most project managers are... – kevtrout Feb 19 '11 at 16:37
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Like bbrown's answer, I confront the speaker immediately and say something like "I'm sorry but I would like to finish what I have to say. Afterwards I will gladly listen to you".

Some of our scrum teams use some form of a token (like a highlighter pen, a small doll or the cap of a champagne bottle) that they pass along during stand-up: the person who is holding it has the floor. Maybe you could use a similar technique.

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Try to write instead of talking.

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If interrupted mid sentence, go back to the beginning of the sentence. If the offender persists (and they do!), go back to the beginning of the paragraph. Repeat until they ask why and then tell them.

  • Hi Andrew, welcome to PMSE! Could you possibly relate this to an experience that you've had as a PM? Tell us how this worked for you in an edit to your answer. Were there times this strategy failed to work? How can one do this without sounding rude? If you can provide more information to back this up, it could be a valuable strategy to those who aren't strong personalities. Good luck, and welcome to PMSE! :) – jmort253 Sep 8 '12 at 1:26

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