Project Management

Social Intelligence for the Project Manager

From the Shifting Change: Insider Tips from Project Leaders Blog
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Today's world is influenced by change. Project managers and their organizations need to embrace and sometimes drive changes to keep up with the pace in highly competitive environments. In this blog, experienced professionals share their experiences, tips and tools to manage and exploit changes and take advantage of them. The blog is complimentary to the webinar series of the Change Management Community Team and is managed by the same individuals.

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Luisa Cristini
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Originally, I was going to share the results of some of my research on project managers, and some ways to close the gap on this critical business and team strength. Suffice to say, we, as a group, do not score high in social intelligence. We seem to show more perseverance and prudence. And when it comes to understanding and reading others, we are not necessarily as comfortable as others are.

In these difficult times though, let’s look at social intelligence from a different perspective. We ALL need it – along with emotional intelligence (awareness of emotions and the ability to manage our emotions). Alexithymia is the inability to identify and describe emotions. Let’s face it, most of us are not taught to recognize and name our emotions and, in the West at least, it is common to “stuff” them. We want to push away emotions that are uncomfortable or that we perceive as “bad”. We rarely pause and take stock of our emotions and are even less likely to describe them to others. Until one day our emotions take over our behavior! 

So I encourage everyone to practice naming their emotions - see below for a tool to help!

Starting with us: Emotional Intelligence

Today I was listening in on a coaching session and the client – we will call her Amy – wanted to explore ways of decompressing and building resilience during these difficult times. She asked her coach for suggestions, and what followed was a process of the coach helping the client to explore what already helps her reset. She identified being in nature (research shows this is a huge de-stressor), exercising, meditating, reading poetry and planning wonderful trips in the future as ways she can change her emotions from ones that seem to drain energy to ones that help her to feel more Zest, Hope and enthusiasm.

In the course of the hour – one that she had considered canceling – she not only identified rejuvenating practices but EXPERIENCED them. At the end of the hour she commented on how important it had been for her to keep the appointment and she made the following observations:

In the face of stress, we often cancel the things that rejuvenate us FIRST in order to claw back time. We cancel the yoga practice, our meditation, that virtual cup of coffee with a friend, our walk outside, or our coaching session. What Amy said at the end was “I want to make a note of how this feels. It is the best way I could spend this hour. I have identified practices that I will use to help myself and in this moment my head feels clearer and I feel calmer and more optimistic than when we started.”

What does this have to do with Alexithymia – one of the things we often forget to do is CHECK-IN with ourselves. As project managers, we are constantly transitioning – moving from a team meeting to a meeting with frustrated stakeholders, to a briefing with the project sponsor and then to our desks to update reports and statuses. Each encounter generates a response in us and if we don’t take stock, name our emotions, acknowledge them without judgment and then mindfully select the ones we want to leverage, we become overwhelmed and unfocused. This is often when we snap at people unexpectedly or fly off the handle at the smallest thing.

I recommend using a tool such as Plutchik’s Wheel of Emotions. Pause for 1 minute and think about where you just were and where you are going. Ask the following questions:

  1. What emotions am I feeling now?
  2. What emotions do I want to take forward?
  3. What emotions do I want to acknowledge and leave alone?

Don’t be surprised when conflicting emotions come up. We often have so-called “mixed feelings” about things or we can feel excited about one part of our lives and anxiety about another – all at the same time!

Expanding to others: Social Intelligence

How do we expand this to those around us? After all, everyone could use a little help right now!

A way I like to recommend is the SEA method:

  • See
  • Explain
  • Appreciate

I usually focus on VIA Character strengths when doing this. At the same time, it can be used for any kind of strength or skill.

You might focus on the technical skills of the person; their character strengths of perspective, kindness, honesty, humor and more; you might focus on their behavior from being on time to offering help to someone who is struggling more than they; you might focus on their attitudes – always spreading hope and focusing on what we can do right now, or gratitude – focusing on what they DO have in this moment rather than what they are afraid of.

So here are three questions for you to think about in this moment:

  1. What practices will you maintain to help keep you grounded and to build resilience?
  2. What emotions are you experiencing in this moment?
  3. What can you call out in others to help them appreciate the resources they already have within themselves?

These three steps are the foundations of Social Intelligence!


2. Image by Sydney Rae on Unsplash

Posted by Ruth Pearce on: March 23, 2020 06:00 AM | Permalink

Comments (6)

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Agreed! I find myself cancelling decompression activities to catch up on time. When in reality, taking a break to rejuvenate and see things in a new light would help our situation.

Thank you for sharing the Plutchik’s Wheel of Emotions diagram. It's an emotional radar.

Thank you for sharing this information. I had not seen Plutchik's Wheel before and enjoyed the visualization.

If anyone wishes to delve into a fantastic resource with information to help you understand what is going on under the hood with Emotions, there is a book called "Emotional Science" The Key to Unlocking High Performance by Audree Tara and Michael K Sahota. The book also has practical exercises to free yourself from unhelpful emotions enabling you to remain in a resourceful state no matter what is going on around you. – Highly Recommended.

NOTE: Buying the book and reading it once will not help; you need to work through the exercises just in the same way that you don't get fit from owning a gym membership. You have to work out as well. 😊

Thank you Marc!
I will check out the book recommendation! I also recommend Carole Osterweil’s book Project Delivery, Uncertainty and Neuroscience: A Leader's Guide to Walking in Fog. It’s short and focused.
And my husband will kill me for not mentioning mine. But so be it. 😉

Thank you Ruth for these other recommendations. I just googled and found your book - Be A Project Motivator
Unlock the Secrets of Strengths-Based Project Management - I will certainly check this out and also visit your blog.

Great article for PMs who usually need to deal with various degree of problems daily. If we can't manage our emotion properly, the decisions we made could not be perfect.

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