An Empathetic Ear: How Listening Impacts Project and Customer Success

On every project, there is at least one person on the client’s side for whom this project is a career opportunity. If you think about it, each project we complete is a critical strategic initiative that a client company entrusts to the leader of the project. For some of our projects, it is a bet on the future of the company we are working for.

This is a very important concept – that what we do impacts the careers and futures of our clients, their companies, and especially the people they assign to work on the project! Everything we do needs to focus on this idea. If we do a great job controlling a project’s scope, cost and schedule, but fail the client’s personal success needs, we have not had a successful project.

So, we need to always think about how we serve our clients. What do you do to make that client, that owner’s project manager, more successful in their careers?

A classic 1950s Harvard Business Review article on what makes a great salesman identified two common characteristics – empathy and drive. The drive part is easy to understand. They have the drive to overcome obstacles and resistance, and to persevere in the face of adversity.

The empathy issue is more subjective. It means not only are they good listeners, but they know how to react to what they are hearing. They also react in a way that is beneficial not only to the client, but also to themselves. It is not being devious, it is simply being effective.

There is an important key to success in empathy, not just in sales but in all we do with our clients. If we are constantly endeavoring to anticipate what a client’s project manager is going to need, then we will be more successful in meeting their expectations. Fulfilling expectations is a pre-requisite for project success. 

In the end, listening is the essence of the art of communication. And communication is the foundation of all we do. As Steven Covey preached, “seek first to understand.” The key here is that if we first understand, we will understand the frame of mind of our client. We will then be better prepared to communicate to them so that we are understood.


Quality in a service or product is not what you put into it. It is what the client or customer gets out of it.

Peter Drucker


The more you engage with customers the clearer things become and the easier it is to determine what you should be doing.

John Russell, President, Harley Davidson


It is not the employer who pays the wages. Employers only handle the money. It is the customer who pays the wages.

Henry Ford