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Sunday, May 29, 2011

Up & Down the Pyramid


You haven’t had your coffee yet today, and you just spilled a full cup in your lap. How do you feel?

Or something important has just gone all to hell on the job, and it’s your fault. How do you feel about that? Say it wasn’t your fault, but you’re being blamed anyway. How’s your mood now?

Now, look the other way. You stubbornly stuck to your guns in a long, difficult effort. Everyone else said it would never work. In the end, you pulled it off – and now they all think you’re awesome. If you don’t feel on top of the world, there’s something wrong with you.

Either way, bummer or winner, we’re supposed to suppress our emotions: Never let them see you sweat . . . and it’s very bad form to celebrate yourself.

There are two important things, one good and one bad, going on in such situations.

One is how we build and improve our image and our relationships. Our behavior is one of our most important tools in successful workplace collaboration. No question that dignified response to all kinds of situations is important in earning respect.

The other vital element is what goes on inside our heads. We err seriously when we too rigorously enforce this restraint within the privacy of our own internal “conversations.”

Don’t kid yourself – the stream of self-talk is constant and powerful. It’s voluminous, estimated to flow in our minds at four times the speed of a typical conversation. Most of us don’t do it aloud – at least most of the time – but it is real and extremely important in determining our behavior.

When that self-talk includes too many admonitions to ourselves to bottle up our reactions, it is a mistake.

In short, we’re plenty emotional, but we don’t like to admit it. We don’t even acknowledge it, and that damages our ability to manage.

Abraham Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs pyramid has been a cliché for decades, but don’t forget that clichés thrive for a reason: They provide instantly-understood definition and meaning. Maslow deserves better, and taking a serious look at the idea in our daily performance can be pretty instructive.

Project management, especially: Risk, uncertainty, complexity, dependency. That’s the environment for the project manager, and it’s guaranteed to keep the emotions at a boil.

Picture the project manager, eternally sliding or slipping down the pyramid. Maybe lurching or pitching down, depending upon how abrupt and impactful the event is.

Trudging or scrambling up the pyramid.

Maslow has a lot to say to you, project manager.

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