Emotional Intelligence for IT Professionals – 5 Tips for IT Project Managers

Emotional Intelligence for IT Professionals – 5 Tips for IT Project Managers

I was recently reminded of the ongoing friction between IT and business professionals in many organizations.  I say friction but others may call it a tug of war or a power struggle.  In some organizations, conflict between the business users and IT is more like a long term feud or a bad marriage.

Have you worked in places like that?  Here is a quick way to tell.  If you have heard any of the following statements by IT or by the business managers, it is likely that you have experienced this friction.

Here is what IT says about the Business Managers:

  • Won’t specify or don’t know what they want
  • Change their mind arbitrarily
  • Don’t want to pay for IT
  • Expect it to be done tomorrow
  • Don’t respect what we know or can do
  • Don’t speak our language
  • Don’t understand the business

Here is what the Business Managers say about IT:

  • Too expensive
  • Too slow
  • Isolated
  • Don’t speak our language
  • Don’t understand the business

Well at least they both can agree on those last two!

If you are in an environment where IT and business teams cooperate and work together, consider yourself lucky.  Just in the last week, I had several conversations with individuals from several different companies.  I was struck by how contentious relationships between these two groups have become.  It seems that many people do not see the interdependence of the two groups.  It is symbiotic, right?  It’s not like the two groups could live without each other, is it?

It is in those charged environments that emotional intelligence can play a large role.  I am talking about more than just rudimentary conflict resolution techniques.  I am talking about mastering relationship management.  By understanding and managing stakeholders, project managers from both IT and the business can improve their relationships and their project success.  Savvy project managers focus on the health of their relationships and not just on the project or the tasks at hand.  This focus on relationships requires long term thinking and investing.

Interestingly enough, it seems that IT is recognizing it’s part in this conflict and direction is coming from the top down to change people’s behavior.  In the January 1, 2007 issue of CIO Magazine, there was an article called The State of the CIO ’07; Beyond Execution.  In that article, they specifically referred to emotional intelligence as a key component of one of the Four CIO Archetypes, the Business Leader CIO.  They went on to talk about key strengths of that Business Leader archetype being collaboration and cooperation.

Closer to home, I had IT professionals from CNA Insurance, Schawk Inc, and Tellabs come to a recent emotional intelligence workshop.  The primary reason for them to attend?  Their CIO recommended the course.

I have spent most of my career on the IT side of this conflict.  I can’t always say that I wasn’t ever part of a conflict with business managers or that I never made any of the statements above.  However, I do know that eventually I learned about the power of relationships and collaboration.

Here are five tips that IT Project Managers can use to improve their relationship with the business managers:

  1. Build a personal relationship – Sure you have to work with them, but you can make the work more enjoyable by building a personal relationship.  What are their hobbies, interests, and concerns.  Where do you have commonalities; activities, people, cities lived in, schools attended, sports, etc?  Relationship Management is a key emotional intelligence competency – if you don’t have it, seek help.
  2. Invite them to your meetings – I encourage IT PMs to include their business counterparts in their meetings.  It helps to keep the communications lines open and to keep your meetings grounded in the needs of the business.  This would include normal status meetings and team building events such as lunches and celebrations.  Even if they don’t choose to attend, it is a small kindness that doesn’t cost much.
  3. Keep them appraised – Your business managers will appreciate being kept in the loop.  This means making them aware when things are going well.  It also means being forthright and promptly letting them know when there are problems.  Business managers don’t want to be surprised, especially with bad news.
  4. Ask for feedback – Sit down with your business manager at least once a quarter and ask how you are doing.  You may choose to do this as part of a post project review or end of phase review.  But do it.  Get honest feedback on your strengths and on your weaknesses.  Find out what you need to do to improve.  Ask the question and sit back and listen without interrupting.  Then put together an action plan to address any issues, gaps, or shortcomings.
  5. Treat them as a customer – More than anything, treat your business manager as a valued customer.  They are, after all.  Sometimes we need to whittle down our ego a bit and submit to doing what we can to make our customers happy.  This doesn’t mean doing it at our own expense.
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