Build Effective Relationships…with Everyone

This post is part of my series called “Soft Skills for Hard Times; How to be Your Best When the Economy is a Mess”.  My goal is to get you to appreciate that your security comes from within and you can increase your security and value to the marketplace by investing in your soft skills.

In the movie the Godfather II, Michael Corleone, played by Al Pacino, says that his father taught him to “keep his friends close and his enemies closer”.

Michael_corleone

I think the point he was trying to make is that we need to build effective relationships with others.  In particular, we need to be attentive to building relationships with those we don’t consider our friends, who don’t like us or we don’t like, those who are different from us, or those who intimidate us.

Think about the spectrum of people that you interact with on a regular basis.  At the highest level, you have the ones that you like and the ones you don’t like.  Of that second group, you have people that you don’t know very well, people that you are sure don’t like you, people that are too busy too spend time with you, people that are self-focused and disinterested in you and your success, and the people who for any reason seem to send out a signal that says “please go away and stay away”.  (BTW, I used to send those signals myself.)

It is natural for us to spend the majority of our time with people we DO LIKE and that LIKE US and to avoid or spend no time with people that we DON’T LIKE or DON’T LIKE US.  While it might be natural, this may be the exact opposite of how we should approach relationships.

In the past year, I worked for 3 different companies and led 2 different projects and 3 programs.  With the exception of two people, every resource on those 5 teams was a brand new relationship for me.  I am probably unique in terms of project managers.  But I think I know something about building stakeholder relationships and doing it quickly and effectively.  I make relationship-building a priority because it is critical to my success.

I still struggle though when it comes to building relationships with certain people.  I put them last on my list when returning calls. I dread my next interaction with them.  I grind my teeth when they speak up at meetings.  My stomach turns when I see their caller id on my phone.

The Godfather knew what he was talking about when he said to ‘keep your enemies closer’.  I admit that I struggle with this but I do know the way out – we need to invest in those relationships that are difficult.  This means to invest in getting to know the people that are tough instead of avoiding them.

There are a couple of tools that I use to help with this – a strengths and weakness assessment and a stakeholder matrix.  I will talk about strengths and weaknesses in an upcoming post.  Read on for more information about using a stakeholder matrix.

The stakeholder matrix is a helpful way to collect and organize information about our team, sponsor, key contributors and any other stakeholders involved in our projects and programs.  Some of the key pieces of information I recommend collecting includes:

  • Stakeholder Priority
  • Position toward you (positive, neutral, negative)
  • Role on the Project
  • Stakeholder Objectives
  • Facts, Passion, and Areas of Interest
  • Communications Style

The key benefit that I see in the use of the matrix is to keep us honest.  By putting it together in one place, we can get a clear view of the state of our relationships.  When we begin to look across our projects and programs and compare our relationships, we can see the patterns where we have inconsistencies in relationships.  Sometimes we think we do a good job with all our relationships, however, without some sort of tracking mechanism, we don’t really know.

I often have workshop participants complete the stakeholder matrix as an exercise.  Inevitably, they are surprised at how little they know about specific team members or other stakeholders.

Stakeholder Management Tool Completed v2

Get in touch with me if you would like a blank stakeholder analysis template through my website here.  Use it to catalog your current relationships and identify those that are in the most trouble or are the most challenging to build.  Then, one relationship at a time, take steps to address those relationships that are hardest for you or in the worst shape.

Action Steps:

  1. Download the stakeholder analysis tool and complete it for your current project or team.
  2. Identify those relationships that are difficult for you and what it is that makes them difficult.  It is because people don’t like you, they avoid you, you are intimidated, or they are too busy?  Try to be as specific as possible.  Rank order the relationships from best to worst.
  3. Pick just one of those relationships to start with and make an investment.  There are plenty of posts on relationship building here on this blog to give you ideas.  But the simplest way to build the relationship is to spend some time with the other person.
  4. Treat your relationship building efforts as a game.  Give yourself points every day when you do well and deduct points when you don’t.  Have fun with it.

Please stop back and post a comment about your relationship building struggles and successes.

Cheers!

Anthony

 

 

Living the Dream

I have a bunch of friends who founded a consulting company called Junction Solutions about 6 years ago.  They worked hard and the company has grown exponentially.  As a result, they are all very successful and likely quite wealthy.

One of the founders is named Jeff.  I talked with Jeff several times about the possibility of joining the company (a decision I sometimes question) and I’ll never forget his signature line – “I’m living the dream”.  These guys were all working like crazy and sacrificing a lot to make their company successful but they viewed it as fun and as living out their dream.

I get a little jealous when I hear that they are living the dream.  As I think about my own life and career, more often than not I look like I am in the battle for my life.  I usually look more like I am struggling and fighting for survival than looking like I am thriving and at ease.

This is a lot like my running.  When I run I am generally pushing myself, tired, out of breath, and looking like I need a long nap.  Take a look at this picture below taken moments after finishing the Las Vegas Marathon in December of 2006.  Do I look to you like I am living the dream?

Anthony_Vegas_2006

In short, no.  I look spent, completely used up, and nearly dead.  Which is exactly how I felt that day in that moment.  I was trying to get a 3:30 marathon time to qualify for the Boston Marathon and on this day, I came up short.  I was utterly exhausted and dehydrated as well.  I had my wife Norma, my brother Scott, and my friend Tim all there to support me and I felt like I let them down because I did not do what I came there to do.  I went all out and I did not achieve my goal.

The thing is, I often work like this as well.  I go all out and wind up looking like I am spent, used up, and just hanging on by a thread.  I don’t imagine it is attractive to others and I don’t believe it conveys an image of success.  It does not look like I am living the dream.

Or does it?  Is it possible to be spending yourself entirely, to be going all out, to go after your goals with abandon AND to be living the dream at the same time?  Is it possible that this look of exhaustion is also a look of living the dream?

What would living the dream look like for you?  Would it be a smile of contentment as you sit back and relax in a lawn chair sipping a cold drink

Forrester Research Puts Emotional Intelligence At Top Of List of PM Capabilities

A recent article in CIO magazine emphasizes the importance of emotional intelligence to IT project managers.  The article refers to a recent report from Forrester Analyst Mary Gerush titled, “Define, Hire and Develop Your Next Generation Project Managers“.  As a result of her research, Analyst Gerush published a list of the top 10 Capabilities of Next Generation Project Managers.

I am not sure exactly what Ms. Gerush meant by “Next Generation Project Managers” or how helpful I find that distinction.  In my experience, these key capabilities apply to all project managers, current and Next Generation.

Strikingly, emotional intelligence dominates the list of 10 capabilities needed by these Next Generation Project Managers.  Not only was Emotional Intelligence listed as the #1 capability, the next three were all part of the Framework for Emotional Intelligence for Project Managers.  For more background on emotional intelligence for project managers, read this previous post.

#1 – Emotional Intelligence: The ability to pick up on events and interactions (both verbal and non-verbal) and to process those inputs in the context of the project plan.  (Note:  These are addressed in the framework in the domains of Self-awareness and Social Awareness.)

#2 – Adaptive Communication: The ability to articulate one’s ideas–whether orally or in writing–to a range of individuals, groups, and cultures using the most effective communication techniques for each group. (Note:  This is addressed in the framework under the domain of Team Leadership.)

#3 – People Skills: The ability to quickly build and maintain positive relationships with team members and stakeholders. (Note:  This is addressed in the framework under the domain of Relationship Management.)

#4 – Management Skills: The ability to serve, motivate and focus a team and to foster collaboration among team members.  (Note:  This is addressed in the framework under the domain of Team Leadership.)

If you want to immediately make an impact on your own capabilities in these 4 areas, you can read through the previous posts on this site and boost your understanding of emotional intelligence and how to apply it to project management.

Here are the rest of the 10 capabilities of Next Generation Project Managers as defined in the article at CIO Magazine:

#5 – Flexibility: The willingness and ability to change one’s approach to project management and/or course of action in response to business needs.

#6 – Business Savvy: Knowledge of the organization’s business, strategy and industry. Ability to understand a strategy and align tactical work around that strategy.

#7 – Analytical Skills: The ability to think through problems and decisions.

#8 – Customer Focus: The ability to understand the end-user or end customer’s needs and the drive to ensure that projects meet those needs.

#9 – Results-Orientation: The ability to get things done efficiently and effectively.

#10 – Character: The project manager should have an appealing personality and a strong moral and ethical character.

You can order a copy of the report from Forrester here:  Define, Hire and Develop Your Next Generation Project Managers.  Just be prepared to shell out $499.  As an alternative, you could buy my book (Emotional Intelligence for Project Managers) at Amazon.com for $16.04 and save yourself $485.  That seems pretty intelligent to me.  But then again, I think I might be a Last Generation Project Manager.

Cheers!

Anthony

When in Doubt, be Nice!

Last week, a good friend and mentor of mine overheard a conversation I was having with one of the team leads on my program.  I was not satisfied with the leader’s performance and I was not nice in my remarks about what I expected.  My friend observed the exchange between me and the team lead and she spoke up and said: “When in doubt, be nice”.

Her comment stung.  I pride myself on my political correctness and being nice to others.  Being called out for not being nice hurt.  And she was right.

Spinner2 The truth is that I have a hard time balancing being kind and getting the results that I want.  I am not suggesting that these two things are necessarily mutually exclusive, but I think that I have placed a higher premium on one than on the other.  I choose to be nice rather than to be satisfied, and this is a real problem for me.

I was recently in a weekend workshop on growing as a leader.  While the workshop helped me to spot several strengths of mine, it also revealed to me a couple of key weaknesses:

  1. I don’t go for my own personal satisfaction; I am OK with coming up short.
  2. I am not honest with myself about my lack of satisfaction.  I am ok with feeling like a victim, rather than getting what I really want.  I don’t tell the truth about what I really feel or mean.  (For more about telling the truth, see my previous post Tell the Truth).

Going for Your Own Personal Satisfaction

Let’s start with the idea of going for your own personal satisfaction.  The principle of responsibility says that I am responsible for my actions and my outcomes.  If I don’t get the results that I want, or if I am not satisfied, that is my responsibility and mine alone. That is all great but the problem for me is this – I am OK with being dissatisfied as it gives me something to complain about, a reason to blame someone else, a way to be a victim, or just a general ‘out’ about not giving it my all.

The better approach is to go for 100% satisfaction of what I want.  This requires being clear about what it is that I want and working with others to make sure it happens.  No excuses, no complaints, and no blaming others.  Just going for what I want and not being satisfied with less.

I like what I wrote about personal satisfaction in this post from January 2009:

“Instead of seeking comfort, we should seek our own satisfaction.  In every situation, we should be monitoring our own level of satisfaction and using that as an internal gauge for whether we are doing the right thing.  My mentor Rich Blue calls this going for our 100% satisfaction.  If you seek to get 100% satisfaction out of every meeting, presentation, project assignment, and workshop, you won’t have to worry about feeling comfortable.  Being satisfied is a higher value than being comfortable.”

Let me give you a real-life example.  If you are at a restaurant and you order a salad with the dressing on the side, what are the odds that the waiter will remember and bring your salad with the dressing on the side?  I do this often and I think the odds are about 90% – that is, the waiter will correctly put the dressing on the side about 9 out of 10 times.  What happens when they don’t, and they bring the salad with the dressing already on it?  What do you do when that happens?

I know what I do – I eat the salad.  I will sometimes mutter under my breath, or make idle threats about reducing the tip, but I rarely draw attention to the fact that I did not get what I ordered and I am not 100% satisfied.  You see, I have been conditioned from an early age to be OK with that, to even expect that I will be disappointed and to minimize the importance of it.  This is not a healthy response for a number of reasons, not the least of which is that it builds resentment that can surface later in undesired ways.

I don’t tell the Truth about my Satisfaction

The second big idea here is that I don’t tell the truth about my level of satisfaction. Just like with the salad, I suck it up.  Quietly.  I tell myself it is not really important, or not worth fighting about.

I am increasingly aware that I do better or worse with certain people or in certain situations.  With some people and in some situations, I have this large blindspot that I have come to think of as a form of ‘corporate denial’.  It is as though with certain people or situations, I completely toss out my expectations the idea that I could be personally satisfied.  I am unable – no, unwilling – to clearly see the truth in what is happening and orient to my own satisfaction.  A good example of this is with authority figures.

I am learning that this corporate denial has become so ingrained in me that I think of it as normal.  It is like the water in the fish tank that the fish cannot see or appreciate.

Being Nice

How does all this relate to being nice?  Well, generally I am very nice.  I am often ‘nice’ at the expense of being effective, as I can be in the restaurant example.  The problem is that while I may be nice on the surface, underneath the surface I am hurt and angry.

Let’s be clear though – being hurt and angry is what I have co-created.  It is also what I expect to happen.  The shift that I need to make is to be crystal clear about what I want and determined to have things the way that I want them.  I need to go for 100% satisfaction for myself.  This needs to be a top priority.

Spinner4 Initially, my need to go for 100% satisfaction may come at the expense of being nice.  Because I have been off balance for so long, the pendulum needs to swing the other way.  I need to have an extreme focus on my 100% satisfaction.

So for me to speak up that day and in an unkind way to challenge my team lead to do their job better, was actually a grow for me and a step in the right direction.  It wasn’t pretty, and I know that I can improve on that.  But I need to continue to get in there and be willing to be messy but insist that things be done the way that I want them done.

I’d be interested in hearing your thoughts and reactions, in particular, if you pride yourself on being a nice guy ora nice girl.

Cheers,

Anthony