How are you doing? We are weeks into a wave of global lockdowns. You might be feeling anxious and frustrated while you work – or cannot work. Imagine what your project team is feeling. No, really, imagine what they are feeling. This will help you become a better leader in the most difficult of circumstances you will ever face. Read on to see how.
In an article which will be published on projectmanagement.com soon, I explain how to generate effective conversations with the right questions. (Once published, I will link it here.) In this post, this concept will be taken further - into the conversation itself. When the most difficult and disruptive situations occur, you must be able to interact effectively with project team members. Right now is one of those times. These techniques will allow you to emerge as a better leader in those conversations.
Your Two Objectives in a Worst-Case Scenario
You now have two objectives. One is to collect useful information for your project, information like whether a project team member currently has the technology available to complete his/her tasks. The second objective, the one more related to leadership, is to find out their state of mind.
The Importance of Being Empathetic
Don't be concerned if being empathetic is not your strong suit. In a massive global event, you and the person you are conversing with are experiencing a similar situation. Certainly there are some geographies, some countries, that are being hit much harder. And it is undeniable that some areas are suffering much more from restrictions forced by the global pandemic. But there is common ground! You will be able to begin conversations which include work situations, family situations and health situations. You will be able to determine what your team members are experiencing in an environment that has never been experienced before. They will feel the need to talk about it.
Listening Means Waiting
When you go into these calls, you will have effective questions to elicit conversation. What you do then is listen. One good tip to make sure you're listening properly is to wait at least three to five seconds, perhaps even more, before you say anything. Let the silence extend! Remember, in a case of global disruption, situations can be fraught, desperate, dire. When they are, responses may be slow, but you need to know, so wait.
Listen Without Judgement
Even though you believe it, avoid the bad habit of responding with "I know how you feel." You see this conversation play out constantly in movies and on TV. The reaction is generally, "No you don't!", which can happen to you when you make this judgement, so don't ever do it. It is a bad response and unnecessary.
Remember, your objective is to determine their state of mind. You want to get an idea of their frustration, anxiety, fear, whatever. If you can put a word to it, you can understand enough about what they are going through. In any situation that has to do with a global event or a major world disruption, you may have project team members in the depths of despair facing tremendous obstacles or at the heights of elation after surmounting obstacles.
If you are not be good in these difficult, fraught conversations, you can prepare to show you are empathetic by having “framed” responses in your mind. For example:
- That must have been frustrating
- You must be anxious at not knowing anything
- Sounds like you went through a scary time
- You must be happy to not have that problem any more
Notice how each one of these responses carefully puts a description on what the other person is experiencing. That shows you received the message and is comforting for the team member.
Avoid "Action Statements" Generally
Being a good listener does not mean that you have to act on anything. In fact, focusing your response on actions rather than empathy typically takes away from the benefits of empathy and interferes with your ability to determine state of mind.
Instead, Suggest Actions Via Questions
Here are some examples of where you would be an effective listener and leader by asking questions related to state of mind:
- Do you need time off to deal with the health of your child?
- Do you need time off to calm yourself?
- Do you need to know when the project will be re-starting or what the business plans are?
- Do you need help to shift to a different location to work?
- What do you need now most of all?
These are just examples of where you can make it easier for the project team member while making the individual more comfortable or less anxious. Those are actions of a good leader.
In Part 2, more techniques will be described to become a better leader this way along with links to related articles.