With all of the acrimonious debates going on in the political sphere these days (and no, I am not getting into any of that), it got me thinking about how important it is for us to be able to get along with a wide range of personality types in our work environment. Particularly In the world of consulting, if we have trouble getting along we will not be successful. The ability to understand people, and then adapt your communication and behavior style is a critical aspect to being a successful consultant, particularly when dealing with the senior managers and senior sponsors on projects. Below are a few things that have helped me over the years in working with key influencers and managers on projects I have worked on.
Show them how you can help them be successful
There is a saying in business: “If you want to be successful, find out what your boss wants, and then do that.” Granted, this is a bit trite, but there is a real kernel of truth to it. As a consultant and a Project Manager, I have been faced on more than one occasion with having to work with a client who was a bit suspicious, or resistant to my being on the team. The first step is always to articulate your role and how you will be able to help them and the project, but sometimes that is not enough. In those cases, it will be your behavior and actions over time that will get them to come around. Be sure you know how your actions can help make the project succeed, and how you can best apply your skills, even if it means going a bit outside your specific role and duties. Based on the specific personnel on a project, you may need to end up doing more of some things and less of others than what you have done on other projects. The goal is for the project to be successful, thereby making the whole team successful. Trust will be built over time (hopefully a short period of time!).
Find out something about them
The more you know about someone you will be working with, the better you will be able to adapt to working with them. Find out things about them. What are their interests? What are their quirks? Do they like to control things and micro-manage, or do they let people run with their responsibilities? Understanding what makes them tick and what is important to them will better enable you to establish a relationship.
One great example I ran into was during a consulting project at a world class children’s hospital. There was a senior researcher at the hospital that we needed as a key influencer on the project. We had heard that he was very difficult to get along with and that he was going to be our biggest challenge. We prepared by learning more about him, and when we first met with him, we engaged him in an informed discussion about other projects we knew were important to him. He really lit up with a smile when we showed this interest, and we had a wonderful conversation with him about his work. From that point on, he became one of our biggest supporters on the project and he was great to work with!
Be an observer, a listener, and watch body language.
This is a big one. By being observant, you should be able to pick up cues about the individual and how to work better with them. Body language can tell you a lot about whether a person is engaged, bored, angry, etc. Pay attention to this! I had a project once where I quickly realized that the client’s senior sponsor did not like to raise difficult issues during team meetings, and he would hold his concerns in, and then explode about it at some later point. I realized, however, that by watching his body language in meetings, I could tell if something was bothering him – his face would turn red, he would fidget, and he would look distracted instead of being fully engaged. Whenever I saw that happening in a team meeting, I would make it a point to walk out with him as we left the meeting and I would casually ask him about the topic. Usually he would then immediately open up about his concerns and we were able to address it right away and prevent any delayed escalation of the issue.
Get to know their personalities and how they like to interact
I was once managing two separate projects at a major pharmaceutical company in NYC, and the client managers I had to work with on these projects had very different personalities. To make my travel time more efficient, I always scheduled my weekly onsite meetings with them back-back since their offices were located across the hall from each other. One of the managers loved to start meetings with personal chit chat, telling a couple of jokes, and generally striking up a casual conversation. We would start every meeting with this casual approach which helped build a good relationship between us. After 5 to 10 minutes of casual chit-chat, we could then effectively dive into the work related topics. The manager on the second project was the complete opposite. If I ever tried to tell a joke or talk about anything personal, he likely would have thrown me out of his office for wasting his time. He was all about business and nothing more. By quickly understanding their different personality styles and then adjusting my approach to interacting with them, I was able to build successful working relationships with both of them.
These are some lessons I have learned over a long career in consulting, and hopefully it gives you some things to think about. I am sure you have a number of stories and successes of your own. At one point in my career, I was working with, and being mentored by a very well known, influential member of the project and process improvement community (and the author of several books on the topic), and I remember a great quote from him regarding project processes – “If you have not tailored the processes on your project, you have not thought about it enough”. As a Project Manager, those are great words to remember, and I believe also very applicable to our personal communication and interaction style.