I think conflict is a reality for all project managers, and so often they are faced dealing with the impact or consequence for the decision they make during conflict situations. There are plenty of rules related to dealing with conflict but just because I am a woman, one specifically stands out, and that I need to check myself against is to NOT become emotionally involved. Objectiveness is one of the big advantages of being a professional and priding yourself in doing the right thing. As soon as we lose objectivity we lose the ability to remove ourselves from the conflict and looking into the real issues. And when we are emotionally involved, we are definitely not objective.
I am amazed that conflict so often become personal points of race, gender, the have and don’t haves whilst the real issues are left unchecked and untreated. We debate with so much vigour our rights and justify our actions and we assume people will see the passion we have for the cause, but in reality most people on the outside look into the inner circle of conflict and see stupidity, selfishness and pride. We miss the point and fight each other, whist we could be working together to address the problem. The win-lose or lose-lose scenario.
Take a team related sport for example. If we act selfishly we reduce the team’s potential by pegging it at an individual’s capability level. When we lose sight of the ball and try to take out our opponents, we get penalised and send to the sin bin and the entire team loses. Why is it that we understand this so perfectly in a sports environment, but forget this in nearly every other area of our lives? How long will we ignore the real issue in hand and attack those we think oppose us by reverting to a destructive as opposed to upliftment attitude. Sure we all in conflict and we do not always like the way we are treated, or the way we are being paid, or the way we need to work or…or…or.
Dealing with conflict requires a servant attitude. One where you remove the emotions from the situation, deal with the real issue and try to uplift others in the process.
The other day I was really early for a meeting at a well-known and popular business restaurant in town. I took a seat where I could have full view of the door, just in case my client storms in and we miss one another. So by the way, this has happened and we spend like 10 minutes waiting for each other in the same place. None the less, at some point in time I was just very aware of the noise of business people meeting, guys laughing and cutlery cluttering as people were served their meals. Somewhere in the background a song were playing, barely audible above the noise and I was deeply struck by the words of the song. Who would think that in this busy place I would find this personal moment. This made me think at how many times we encounter a lone voice in a busy place that only some, being well tuned in, would pick up on.
So what does it mean being well tuned in? Well I think it relates to your willingness to listen and that does not only applies to your ability to hear, but the ability to really focus on the message and allowing it to be internalised. The experts would tell you of all the barriers that is working towards hampering your tune-in-ness, if I can use this term, and honestly there is a lot more working against you than for you when it comes to listening.
But it is about attitude more than it is about skill. I realised that so often I hear but do not listen, and that is not a reflection on the messenger, the noise or anything other of the many barriers I can blame, but due to my inability to change gears. Sometimes so lost in what I am doing or what I am thinking that I totally lose what was said. Moving gears from my own world to the world of the person bringing the message helps, but needs to be done consciously and with great speed. AND speed is something I do not have a hurry up is becoming a lot harder the older I get. So many debates between myself and my husband lately on what was said and what was not makes me sometimes wonder if we are indeed living in the same house.
It is therefore with humility that I come to you as project managers today, not as somebody that have mastered the skill, but somebody that failed many times and have seen the consequences of a wrong listening attitude. The importance to recognise the messenger and to focus on what is being said can never be underestimated. Learn to stop working, turn to look the person in the eye and to listen and absorb.
Disappointed with people? Yes sure I think all of us have experienced some sort of disappointment with others specifically when they break promises that we have been counting on. Broken promises leads to questions around character and ultimately a lack of trust. So we end up labelling people whether it is a conscious or unconscious act and that label is difficult to remove ones stapled to the forehead of an unsuspecting recipient. It influences our lives and our relationships directly and sometimes in unexpected ways.
Take the following scenario: You are sitting in a Steering Committee meeting and the Executive sponsor is requesting a specific report from you. Confidently you state that the team would have it done by Monday. Monday comes and goes and no report. Your first reaction, that I will call denial might be that the Executive Sponsor would have forgotten about it, so he would not have noticed that we are late. The second reaction I call the looking for a loop hole, so Monday is still 24h00 right? Thirdly, blame shifting as an option where we call our team to trial. Alternatively we can stand in the gap and state that we have underestimated the amount of work and it is going to take longer than anticipated. Whatever your decision or approach does not take away the fact that you made a promise that you did not keep. If you have a Sponsor that believes in giving people the benefit of the doubt, you might not get the label immediately, but by the second and third time, none of what you say would ever be taken seriously.
Agreed, we get into situations where we have to make a judgement call and we need to make a calculated promise that has a certain level of risk associated with it. However I have seen too many project managers who takes making promises lightly without consideration to their own, their teams and their organisations reputation. So next time before you make a commitment, be sure to consider your words and the risk associated and rather voice a disclaimer than be the recipient of a label.