We have talked about the need for project managers to use self-management and self-control when it comes to emotions. Before we move from a focus on self-management to a focus on others (social awareness), I would like to introduce a three step process which can be used for self-management. This three step process will help us to avoid emotional breakdowns.
As we have discussed, emotional breakdowns are often predictable and usually escalate slowly. Once we are aware of our emotions and understand the process, we can then take steps to overcome. The three step process includes identifying the feeling, determine underlying cause and take action to get clear.
Step 1. Identify the Feeling. Management of emotions starts with awareness of our emotions. This awareness might simply be a clear as strong anger over a missed deliverable, unease about a meeting, or simply a nagging awareness of something which is not quite right. We need to use the self-awareness techniques to identify the feeling. Once we are aware, we can do something about it.
Step 2. Determine the underlying cause. Once aware of our emotion, we need to trace back and understand the source or cause of the emotion. In the previous example of the anger over a missed deliverable, we can trace our anger back to the deliverable. We need to look further than the simple act of missing the deliverable. We need to ask what else is leading to our anger. Are we angry because we don’t tolerate mistakes? Or because we should have monitored the progress more closely or because it will make us look bad as a project manager?
In the case of the unease over an important client meeting, we can trace the cause to the importance of the meeting. We are scared because the meeting is important to us. Our bodies automatically use fear to generate adrenaline that helps us prepare for the meeting and carries us through that stressful time.
Step 3. Take action to get clear. Once we understand the cause, we can take action to get clear. This is critical. If we take action to get at the cause of the negative feelings, we can establish new ways of thinking and behaving. This doesn’t necessarily mean we must take radical action. The appropriate action could be to simply recognize that our reaction was out of line or that our interpretation of the situation caused us unnecessary anger.
Taking action to get clear could involve a do-over. A do-over is when you repeat the situation but you change your behavior to achieve a different emotional outcome. A do-over may not even involve the person involved in the conflict. Sometimes we can role play the event and choose a different action. You might role play the event with someone besides the person involved in the conflict such as a confidant, advisor, or therapist.
How would we get clear in the previous situations? We can get clear with our anger over the deliverable by meeting with the team resource responsible for delivering. We can explain that we are angry because of their behavior and then let them know why (it causes the client to lose confidence or some other reason). We might conclude with what we would want them to do differently in the future. By telling them we were angry, we are able to get clear.
Note that we might also get clear without meeting with that person. It might be more appropriate to scream in our car on the way home (with the windows up of course) or punch out our pillow or mattress.
Try the three step process and see if it helps you to manage your emotions.