Fruits ‘n’ Nuts in a Basket

It’s that time of year: the break room tables are piled with boxes of candy and littered with crumbs. Workplace nourishment is taken every hour from 9 am to 7 pm. Foods are served that might not see the light of day at any other time of year. Not only are the fruitcakes a dense and sticky sight to behold, we’re amazed to discover that quite a few of our colleagues can’t stop eating them. And the gift baskets and cookie trays won’t stop coming:

So, that’s the setup. Now, how can a project manager turn all of that sugar-fueled energy into an opportunity for positive results in an ongoing program? Do we have to? And should we?

One of the roles of a PM is to be the “big picture” person. The specialists are down in the trenches, doing the “real” work of coding or debugging. They must focus intensely on their specific area of assigned responsibility. As able as they may be, as much as they’d like to analyze a broader area, the demands placed on them simply don’t permit it. You can’t muse about the “three major blocking issues” that prevent shipment, and the possible solutions, at the same time as you’re testing out a new fix to a data routine. “We” can’t do their job, and “they” won’t do ours.

So yes, whatever the Zeitgeist may be, a PM should look for hidden opportunities. The obvious part of the business holiday season: the emphasis on rich and sugary snack foods: conceals a real opportunity that I wish more PMs and other human beings would take advantage of. It is the opportunity to feel, and to express, gratitude.

Gratitude is not something that comes easily to many PMs. The predominant mood of a PM, 365 days a year, is often one of resignation or exasperation at the impediments to success and the structural difficulties of the PM role. “Responsible for everything, with the direct and acknowledged authority to do little or nothing: .” “The only organized, goal-oriented person in the place: ” “Last defender of human civilization and rational thought: ” Isn’t that the flavor our words or even our thoughts often take relative to the work we do? It’s a world away from gratitude.

But behavioral cognitive research shows us that our world view: grateful or grumpy – actually alters the people and events around us. An effective response is to recognize unhelpful or destructive patterns of thinking and reacting, then modify or replace them with more realistic or helpful ones.

Let’s get specific. That engineer two cubicles down: the one who disappoints you with forgetfulness or stonewalling: can be viewed as a problem. Or you can decide to believe that he is doing the best he can, and might actually long to have a better interaction with the PM, if only he knew how. Amazing results can come if you can spend just a single working day telling yourself every five minutes that those around you are doing the best they can with what they’ve got. That’s probably true at least 93% of the time: why not round it off and assume 100%? The part I like best about the empathetic and positive approach is that it helps stress evaporate. When you attempt, however imperfectly, to see the world through someone else’s eyes, it’s hard to stay exasperated.

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