A first meeting can be a trip into unchartered waters. Thankfully, a lot of research helps with tips. Here are some of them and one of my first meetings, as a exemplification.
So, you put your best outfit and your smile on and you enter the meeting room. Tadam! No applauses? Indeed a suit and a smile help for a good first impression. And there is more. It is well-known that it takes seven seconds to make a first impression. In seven seconds your suit, smile, handshake, gestures, facial expression, eye contact, posture and tone of the voice will all be screened and assessed. So better get ready.
Showcasting in the privacy of your home before the meeting helps prepare. Use a large mirror. Or call in a pair of friendly eyes and ears. Rehearse your introduction, work on its content. But equally, if not more, it is important to be aware of our non-verbal communication. UCLA research has shown that only 7% of communication is based on the actual words we say. As for the rest, 38% comes from tone of voice and the remaining 55% comes from body language. Our gestures, facial expression, eye contact, posture and tone of voice speak louder than words and suits. The trick with the body language is that you cannot fake it. The good news is that awareness about how you use your body to speak can be developed. In time, with practice and patience.
Of the many first team meetings i had as a project manager, here is a story, which shows how vulnerabilities and strengths may show at a first meeting with the team.
The team was there for 2,5 years already and they knew each other well enough. The portfolio manager wanted to introduce me to the project team even before i signed the contract. She was eager to give them the assurance that after three project managers in five months, things will take a stable course. It gives a clue about the environment I was about to start in.
So there I was, in my suit, with a smile and a soft lady-like handshake. My soft lady like handshake assured the men in the team that there is no “threat”. It created though a sense of competition among the female members. I was to learn about it in the coming weeks.
To present my credentials, the portfolio manager gave them the details of my past experience. Complementary, i highlighted experiences team members and I had in common. My years in consultancy, for instance. My shoulders, while speaking about it, was read as a sign of confidence in my ability to steer the pluri-disciplinary project by some and as a predictor of a potentially more demanding reporting line by others. The latter made me work harder on my collaborative and persuasive skills.
A round table sitting allowed for a good eye contact. I could move my eyes around to make sure each and everyone feels included. With the exception of a couple of looking-down pairs of eyes. Which brings me to the other side of the first meeting: it is also an opportunity for you to watch and learn. The couple of looking-down eyes, for example, was a post-it for me for where more attention will need to be devoted.
Depending on the stage if the project, at the first meeting with the project team, you may need to get down to the planning business or agree on one-to-one follow-up meetings to learn more and then plan.
As a cliche as it may sound, prepare and plan your first meeting for good first impressions to the extent you can. The number and quality of follow-up meetings may depend on it.
In the projects world, we usualy get adults as clients. Regardless of the age, you might experience a client tantrum.
They want it their way. They are noisy about it. They unnecessarily attract attention.
The first time i experienced it, it was scary. A deputy prime minister wanted it his way. He is running for president of a country now, by the way.
What can a project manager do? There is no universal soothing formula as clients are as different as the stars on the sky. I personally love reading about parenting and child growth, which offer great inspiration for kids and adults alike.
So, here are steps to take when the client has a tantrum:
Seat back and take a deep slow breath.
Scan your body for any tension.
Say confidently and softly: “I thank you for your concern for the project. I see you are upset right now and it feels for you good to shout/hit the table/kick the wall (depending on what they do). It’s your project and i am managing it to get the best possible results for you. I am here for you and the project’.
If the shouting/kicking continue, repeat. It’s also an advice found in boundary setting psychology literature.
If it does not work, here is a joke one of consultants i work with told me in a similar situation. A poster in a designer office said:
Design – 100 Euro
Design with you looking over my shoulder – 200 Euro
Design with you looking over my shoulder and telling me how to do it – 300 Euro
Design with you looking over my shoulder, telling me how to do it and me doing it – 400 Euro
Design by you at my computer – 500 Euro”,
From my numerous discussions with sponsors and programme managers, resilience is a top ability they value in project managers.
I have been reading quite a lot recently on resilience*. My findings are nothing new perhaps. Yet, we all need reminders, from time to time.
Nurturing your resilience is multi-dimensional. It requires discipline. No one can do it for you. You have to be in charge. You have to be and act as your own resilience project manager.
Some say resilience is a muscle. Sheryl Sanderg, for instance: “You are not born with a fixed amount of resilience. Like a muscle, you can build it up, draw on it when you need it. In that process you will figure out who you really are—and you just might become the very best version of yourself” (advice offered by Sheryl Sandberg to graduating students at the University of California). Some genetics though may work into your favour. It’s the grand daugther of war and famine survivors speaking here.
I believe resilience is an inner source fuelled by care for the body, the mind and the soul. Ideally, all three need to be in balance. Since everyone’s resilience is unique, take time to identify what works for you. As a project manager, apply your resources management skills to make sure you keep your supplies up-to-date and up-to-needs.
If you do not know where to start to take care of your body and mind, imagine it is a baby you look after. A baby needs enough sleep, appropriate food, comfort and care. Learning to listen to your body is like keeping a project on a critical path and watching the scoreboard for anything going red.
We’ve always known that quality sleep is good for your brain, but recent research from the University of Rochester demonstrates exactly how so. The study found that when you sleep your brain removes toxic proteins from its neurons that are by-products of neural activity when you’re awake. As a breastfeeding mother, full time project employee and long distance master degree student at the same time, I can’t say enough about the importance of good quality sleep to improving mood, focus, and self-control. A good quality sleep ensures that you wake up alert and clear-headed. Your energy, attention, and memory – your key resources to manage a project – are all reduced when you don’t get enough quality sleep.
“We are what we eat”. So we better know more about it. Investing in books in nutrition and/or an appointment with a nutritionist works for me. I also balance my diet with two vegan days per week. It’s also something my grandmother used to do and her resilience is worth a golden medal. Science offers more and more insight into how our well being is affected by what we do. See for example the Ted Talk How the food you eat affects your brain https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xyQY8a-ng6g Each body is unique and learning what kind of and how much food it needs it’s a journey for each to take.
Projects can get pretty emotional at times. Tensions are high. Interests are at stake. Things do not go as planned. Disappointments lead to emotions. Of different kinds. It’s to be expected and many other professions face similar upheavals. In such situations, I find answers in Daniel Goleman research on emotional intelligence. See more http://www.danielgoleman.info/. In fact, every social interaction creates emotion. I know that my reaction would lead to the team members’ reactions. “Teams are emotional incubators’ sais Vanessa Druskat, Ph.D., an internationally recognized expert and consultant on group emotional intelligence. Teams’ emotions create a chain of reactions among sponsors, clients and stakeholders. Once aware about how the social brain works, the triggers become more manageable for an increased collaboration.
Last but not least, humour and the ability to laugh about yourself is a savour. Here is the 14th Dalai Lama, taking time out of his serious and profound speech to the Council of Europe on the need for greater compassion, ethics, morality and self discipline, to laugh and joke with Nils Muižnieks, the Commissioner for Human Rights … and then tickle him https://www.facebook.com/councilofeurope/videos/10155390922917715/ .
If you believe in the value of fun in projects, see also “The Project Manager who smiled” by Bob Taylor https://myprojectdelight.com/2016/05/11/the-project-manager-who-smiled-by-bob-taylor/
For a project manager’s resilience to work, it might be ‘Eat, Pray, Love” or ‘Sleep, Eat, Laugh”. Up to you to figure it out. With kindness to yourself and care for others.
If you want to assess your resilience, Harvard Business Review offers an Assessment: https://hbr.org/2015/01/assessment-how-resilient-are-you by Manfred F. R. Kets de Vries
“How Resilience Works” by Diane Coutu on HRB.org
– I want to dye your hair!, my hairdresser is relentless.
– No. Not yet.
– I am managing a project where 20% could be my parents, 70% – my uncles and aunts and 10% – my older brothers.
– and?, she is still relentless.
– I conquer them with my grey hair! 🙂
She gave up.
Couple of months later, an external monitor, hired by the project’s sponsor, knocked at the door.
Guess what was his first question from the long list of efficiency, effectiveness, sustainability, cross-cutting issues? “You are much younger than the project’s team members. How do you make them listen? ”
– It’s not about age, it’s about experience and mutual respect, my grey hair answered.
These were the ingredients I discovered on my journey with a seniors team:
Ingredient one: listen.
I was the one on the listening end. Most of the time. Better even if you can actively listen.
Ingredient two: acknowledgment.
Listening led to a simple acknowledgement: I am younger. Their experience in all their fields of expertise exceeds mine by numbers and value.
Ingredient three: borders.
We agreed on borderlines: I know a thing-or-two about project management; they know one hundred-or-two about the fields they are experts in.
Ingredient four: assertiveness.
Listening, acknowledging and border lines led to assertiveness. “You are assertive. I have to give you that” coming from a senior officer who worked around the world was a feedback I trusted. Assertiveness offers a great anchor. Especially when borders are crossed and a patronising tone wants to make an entrance (from both sides). It’s tough, but manageable. The benefits are higher and long-lasting when you stay calm and positive.
Ingredient five: blame it on my youth
When nothing seemed to work, I would shrug my shoulders. “What do I know?!” And it would be them convincing me of the opposite 😉