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Interpersonal skills and you

Michelle LaBrosse
February 27, 2013

Please hold for a scene from the movie Office Space:

“What would you say ya do here?”

“Well look, I already told you! I deal with the goddamn customers so the engineers don’t have to! I have people skills! I am good at dealing with people! Can’t you understand that? What the hell is wrong with you people?”

And we’re back.

Interpersonal skills often get a bad rap as being ‘common sense’ or ‘fluffy’, with people giving more of their time and attention to develop their technical skills. But the truth is, the more we lose focus on the importance of interpersonal skills, the more at risk we are to have poor emotional intelligence, which can hurt our relationships and our careers. Interpersonal skills are becoming such a hot topic, that this specific subject even has its very own appendix in the updated PMBOK Guide – Fifth Edition (starting July 31, 2013).

So why are interpersonal skills so important to project managers? Let’s take a look at 11 aspects of interpersonal skills stressed in the PMBOK Guide – Fifth Edition, to get a better understanding of how interpersonal skills shape your projects and shape your career.

1. Leadership: When you are able to lead from a place of trust and respect, rather than from using punishments to illicit fear, your project team will be able to accomplish so much more. When you are a good leader, you have the ability to get things done through others, and use each individual’s strength to the advantage of the entire team. To be a successful leader, you can’t just create a submissive team; you need to create an inspired team that shares your vision and understands how their contributions are helping to achieve that vision.

2. Team building: You can’t put together a group of people that seem to make a good team ‘on paper’ and expect reality to align with your expectations. And, unless you are really lucky, a team will need to proactively work on team building in order to be effective. The team can do this by openly and honestly talking about their expectations in their unique team roles, deciding how they will deal with conflict should it arise, and focusing on problems in terms of possible solutions, not in terms of blaming people for the problems.

3. Motivation: How do you get a committed team who will work hard toward a project’s goal? First, you need to find out how to motivate them. This task may be more difficult than you originally think, because not everyone is motivated in the same way. One person may be money motivated, while another is better by professional achievement and growth. Get to know your team and what motivates them, and develop a strategy to improve incentives that speak to those motivations.

4. Communication: As you most likely already know, communication, or lack thereof, can make or break a project team. While a communication plan can greatly help in ensuring effective communication, there are many other interpersonal dynamics that impact effective project team communication, such as cultural and communication style differences.

5. Influencing: The skill of influence is very powerful, and can be used either destructively or productively. You, as a project manager with good intentions, have it in your greatest interest to improve your influence skills to a level where you have the power to make significant changes and improvements in your project team and organisation.

6. Decision making: How will you and your team make important project team decisions? Will you as the project manager make decisions on your own, or will you involve your team for most decisions? It’s important to take some time to think about the decision-making process that will take place in your project team, as it will affect many other areas, such as motivation and team building.

7. Political and cultural awareness: The days are gone where a project manager can live in an isolated bubble of their particular circumstance and experience and expect to be able to relate to others. In today’s global environment, successful project managers do not only recognise and accommodate cultural diversity, they capitalise on it.

8. Negotiation: Think about how many times you negotiate every day. Whether it pertains to what you watch on TV that evening (if I get to choose the restaurant, you can decide what we watch afterward) to what currency in which your newest international deal will be conducted, negotiations permeate every part of our life. The more you listen to the other party and understand their needs and wants, as well as your own, the better you will be able to find a mutually beneficial solution that is win-win for both parties.

9. Trust building: Can you imagine working on a project team where each person only has their own interests in mind, and neither trusts or likes anyone else on the team? Neither can I. Trust is the foundation of a good project team, and give the entire team the flexibility they need to accomplish tasks in the way they best know how.

10. Conflict management: When we hear the word ‘conflict’, we often think of fighting, relationship deterioration, and stress. But this negative connotation does not have to be your project team’s reality. Turning conflict into collaborative problem solving is one of the best experiences a team can have, as it addresses the validity of dissenting opinions and aims to make the situation better than it was before.

11. Coaching: A project team reaches the ultimate level of productivity when each team member feels empowered to reach their full potential. When you invest in your team in the form of training and formal or information coaching, they will in turn invest in the project and organisation with their time, skill, and expertise.

So the next time someone asks you “What would you say ya do here?” you can say with confidence that you are a project manager that uses your interpersonal skills to create effective and successful project teams that can move mountains.

Co-authored with Kristen Medina

Michelle LaBrosse
Michelle LaBrosse (PMP) is one of the Project Management Institute's (PMI) 25 Most Influential Women in Project Management in the World and the founder of Cheetah Learning, a former PMI Professional Development Provider of the Year. She boasts a background in engineering and is a graduate of the Harvard Business School’s Owner President Managers (OPM) program, as well as a prolific writer and educator, having authored Cheetah Negotiations, Cheetah Project Management, Cheetah Know How and Cheetah Exam Prep as well as numerous articles in publications worldwide.
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