Product Managers usually find that their success depends in large part in how well they work with teams of others to accomplish goals related to requirements, marketing collateral, sales support, analyst relations, and much more.
It’s a situation that involves influence rather than direct control, and direct responsibility but with indirect authority over others. It involves working with people who may be tough to get along with, or trying to get people who can’t stand each other to work with you like you’re all one big, happy family.
It’s a funny thing that while the details of why people don’t get along well are as unique as the individuals involved, the causes often fall into rather simple patterns. And the problems often aren’t sparked by unusual actions, but stem instead from very typical ways that people fail to communicate with and understand each other.
Read on below for some tips on how to appreciate and reach out to a person when your personality types and communication styles don’t naturally mesh.
Useful Past Topics About Communication
The newsletter topics listed below can provide some additional insight in the area of good communication and teamwork among very different individuals.
- 03001 – Why is the Soft Stuff So Darn Hard?
- 03016 – Soft Skills: Practice Factuality
- 04001 – Influence: It’s Under Your Control
It’s All About People
When you want to figure out how to make things work better between you and a certain individual, it’s all about that person, and only that person. All the research on personality types and communication preferences is very helpful. Many widely varying profiles are described. But in the end, you need to focus in on a single person at a time and figure out what makes them tick, and what they’re about. This will always involve a goodly amount of analysis and attention to one person, where you want to make sure not to let generalizations cloud your judgment.
But It’s Nothing Personal
The good news is that while you lie awake at night fretting about the stupid things you said or did and wondering what other people thought about it, those other people are busy lying awake thinking about what they said, not what you said. Understanding this helps take away the urge to be so hard on yourself, or on others for that matter, about communication and teamwork difficulties.
It also helps to aim for a state of mind where you step back and realize that this isn’t about you and another person as people, it’s about how you communicate and work together. When it’s about a coworker as a person, it becomes about what they are. If it’s about how you communicate, it becomes about what you and they do. It’s much easier to focus on doing, and changing what you do, than on being, and changing what you are.
Well, Maybe Not Always About People
There’s an interesting book that came out recently called Unstuck. A Tool for Yourself, Your Team, and Your World by Keith Yamashita and Sandra Spataro, Ph.D. They talk about six different components that make for a team that is functioning in balance, and six ways that teams can get stuck as one of these components gets out of balance. The authors explain that there is more to successful teamwork than just the people on the team.
For example, one problem with a team may have nothing to do with the people and personalities. Instead, it could be a lack of structure and processes that hold back a team made up of great players.
While there’s no end to differences between individuals, people’s personalities tend to be grouped into a relatively finite number of types. Different personality types even tend to be attracted to specific job functions.
One important aspect of personality that directly affects how people work together is how someone takes in new information and imparts it to others.
Analytical and Technical
People who are analytical gravitate to the more technical positions in a company, such as those in Engineering or Finance. But you can encounter analytical people in any job function.
Analytical people like to collect all the facts and break things down logically. They like to compare and contrast, and carefully construct decisions from plenty of information using objective information.
If you are an emotive person, you won’t get very far with an analytical person until you can provide a balanced and complete set of information, mostly facts, for that person to analyze and understand. This can be hard if you believe that facts are details that matter less than whether people support an idea enthusiastically.
Emotive and Non-Technical
I say “emotive” rather than “emotional” because this quality is not about people having or lacking emotion. Emotive people gravitate to less technical positions in a company, such as Sales, Marketing, and Customer Service. But again, you may find them anywhere.
Emotive people like to judge a situation based on the feelings involved. They look at whether people approve of or are enthusiastic about a given choice when they want to make a decision. They go more with gut feel and instinct to choose between alternatives.
If you are an analytical person, you will get much further with an emotive person by addressing such issues as whether people like an idea, whether they support a specific decision, or how taking a certain action will make people feel. This can be difficult if you think that the facts should speak for themselves and feelings don’t really enter into the matter at hand.
How People Understand
Sometimes problems between two people at work are simply a matter of very different ways that they take in information. You could repeat yourself till your blue in the face with a coworker, but everything you say may simply not be registering because of a very different preference for taking in new information. The four basic preferences are described below.
Visual people learn by looking at things and seeing things. They tend to use expressions like “I see” when they understand something. You’ll do better with a visual person by providing pictures, as well as written documents they can look over on their own rather than having you go through the documents or material verbally.
For a particularly complex topic, you’ll be better off drawing a diagram and explaining it piece by piece. Also, if you’re explaining something by talking about it, painting a verbal picture with lots of visual words will help your ideas register in the mind’s eye of a visual person.
An auditory person likes to hear and talk about things in order to understand them. I have encountered many sales reps who seem to understand me best when they tell me what I want them to know. You tell them something, and then they respond with their interpretation of it, or elaborate on something you have said. They may use phrases like “I hear you” when they understand.
To communicate with auditory people, expect to do a lot of talking and give them plenty of opportunity to ask questions. They may have little interest in reading your materials or looking at diagrams. They want to talk.
Kinesthetic people are the ultimate hands-on learners. They learn by doing. To work well with a kinesthetic person, try to find a way for them to get involved and working on the project rather than subjecting them to a lot of directions. Get their assistance collecting information from different sources and pulling pieces together for you.
Tactual people are similar to kinesthetic, but instead of preferring large movement and action to understand, they prefer small movement and action such as taking notes or drawing. Tactual people also understand by feeling things, either touching something physical or putting themselves in someone else’s shoes mentally, seeing how others did the same thing.
Extraverted and Introverted
Extraverted people get energized by talking and interacting with others. The more you talk to them, the more energy they have. They’ll be happy with lots of instructions, and they’ll have tons of things to tell you. If you’re an introvert, and what an extravert has to say is way more than you want to hear, you’re better off being patient and letting your teammate get through what he or she wants to say. The time you gain in good working communication more than pays for the time you spend letting them talk.
Introverted people, on the other hand, are energized by tasks they do alone, and their energy eventually gets depleting by interacting with others. So if you’re an extravert and you’re working hard to get a point across to an introvert, you may reach a point where all your talking is counterproductive. Talking more may make things worse rather than better. The key is to get an introvert to talk (not talk a lot, just talk some) so that you can know whether they have understood what you were communicating.
Abstract and Concrete
Different people tend to prefer working with different levels or types of information. Some people like working with abstract information. This includes ideas and plans and big-picture thinking (now there’s a term coined by a visual person if there ever was one). This includes overall statements like “We’re going to provide excellent customer service.”
People who prefer concrete information want to focus on specific tasks and actions. They have less patience for big concepts and far-off plans, but want to focus on what to do, and specifically on what to do now. For example, if they were to talk about better customer service, it would more likely be “We’re going to add more service reps and have set a goal of responding to all service requests within an hour.”
Mixing and Matching
The tricky part comes when you are working with a group of people, not just one other teammate, who between them cover a lot of ground when it comes to personality and communication preferences. When you work with a group, you’ll need to try to use tactics that hit all the different types and preferences. At least one of these tactics will be effective with each individual on the team.
And don’t forget that when you want to help the team communicate upwards to management, you’ll want to take into consideration the manager’s preferences so that your ideas make the good impression they deserve.
— Jacques Murphy, Product Management Challenges