I have been speaking quite a bit lately about the importance of emotional intelligence and risks of making dumb mistakes due to a lack of emotional intelligence. I call this my Smart People, Dumb Mistakes Tour and it has been underway since last fall. The idea is that there is a difference between intelligence (or IQ) and emotional intelligence. Even really smart or successful people are at risk of making a dumb mistake when it comes to emotions (e.g. Eliot Spitzer or Lisa Lowak).
Project managers especially need great people skills and would do well to avoid those dumb mistakes. One of the key concepts that I have found to resonate with PMs is the idea that we are operating in stressful environments and at risk of some type of emotional breakdown or loss of control. Many of us are doing more with less, staying connected and "on" all the time, and feeling overwhelmed in the process. We are surrounded by people and situations that push our buttons and threaten to push us over the edge.
The best project managers tend to stay positive and unflappable no matter what comes their way. I am jealous of those men and women. For my part, I have to continually strive to do better and better in this area.
One thing that helps me is to recognize that no matter what the stimulus, I still have a choice about my behavior. I can choose a response that leads toward my goals, or I can react emotionally. In fact, I devoted my last monthly newsletter to the topic of, Respond Don't React. Here is a key graphic from that newsletter. (FYI – You can sign up for my monthly newsletters from my home page).
The key to being able to choose a response versus just reacting emotionally is our level of emotional resilience. At a recent speaking event, a participant reminded me of a short and simple acronym for helping us gauge our level of emotional resilience. It is the acronym HALT.
HALT stands for Hungry, Angry, Lonely and Tired. Those four serve as a gauge of our level of emotional resilience. Whenever you are Hungry, Angry, Lonely, or Tired, your resilience is low and you are at risk of having a negative reaction or emotional breakdown. You are less likely to make good choices about your responses to stimulus.
The key thing that HALT tells me is that I am at risk. It is a quick test. And those HALT items are pretty common indicators for most people. If you wanted to elaborate, you could come up with additional things that might set you up for a breakdown. This is a list that my audiences have given me:
- Illness and Fatigue
- Lack of Exercise
- Failing to reach my Goals
- Feeling Overwhelmed
- Always on with WIFI and my Blackberry
Here are some work situations that push my button and put me at risk for a breakdown. See if you can recognize the HALT aspect for each of these situations:
- Working Late – When I am working long hours on a project. I am working late at the office and everyone else has gone home. I am likely to be feeling lonely and tired, I might also be hungry, and could easily be resentful and angry about all of it.
- Long Term Conflict – When I work in an environment where people don't like each other and are constantly fighting, it is stressful. It is easy for me to feel angry and tired. I am more likely to isolate myself and therefore feel lonely.
- Business Travel - When I am traveling for work, I frequently find myself at the mercy of the airlines; flights are delayed or cancelled, or I sit on the tarmac before taking off or after landing. I can be hungry, angry, lonely and tired when that occurs.
- Driving to and from Work - My current commute is 1 hour and 15 minutes. Enough said!
- Long and Contentious Meetings – I may not be hungry in a long meeting, but when there is a lot of conflict, it is easy for me to feel angry, lonely, and tired.
Once I know what in particular is likely to set me up for a failure, I can be alert and see that as a sign of risk. I can mitigate the risk, when I recognize it, by taking immediate action to remove myself from the situation. This might include stepping out of the building for some fresh air or going home for the day. This could be getting something healthy to eat or going to the gymn.
I can avoid that risk entirely by taking good care of myself well in advance of being in this condition. This might include getting more rest, eating better, exercising, or taking time off from work. I can meditate, pray, spend time on hobbies, or connect with family or friends. This falls into the category of 'self-care' and it is something that many project managers could improve on.
In an ideal world, I would be kind, graceful, and compassionate with everyone I meet every day. Until I figure out how to do that, I need to use techniques like HALT or my list of triggers to avoid and recognize when I am at risk. I can also improve in the area of self-care with the hope that an investment in me will pay off in having more grace and compassion for others.