Tune and Trust Your Intuitions

As you learn about project management, one critical thing to absorb is to trust your sense about situations.  This may not be something that you’ll learn about in most trainings or school or from many mentors – but it’s critical.   By “your sense”, I mean your intuition, the gut feel you may have about a situation, your client or your co-workers.  It is something that can be learned and my experience has taught me to develop and trust my intuitions.

I’ve just finished a two-year consulting engagement as PM for business process re-engineering and organization change management.  My work started out with some bumpy moments.  The overall project manager was supportive of the work I was doing but my immediate client was somewhat resistant.  I told him that with my many years of project management, I felt it was necessary to check in with all the people who would be affected by the new business processes.  He said that a little, cursory checking in was fine but he didn’t want to have his people – all of whom I was training – to spend much of their time contacting stakeholders.

The immediate reaction I felt was, “Oh darn” – I said it to myself in somewhat stronger language, to be sure – but then I asked myself, what do I need to know about this person and what are my intuitions about him that can help in us working together effectively.

First, I wanted to find out what were the means of communication that were most effective with him.  Did he prefer email?  Or phone conversations?  Or in-person meetings?  Or was there some other way I should explore: Skype, texting, Twitter, etc.

It was a hit and miss affair.  I’d send an email and see how effective that was.  I’d call and those tended to be halting and not involving much give and take.  And I’d travel to the site where he worked to hold in-person meetings.  His work site was a good hour-and-a-half away from my work site, so meeting in-person was clearly a significant commitment on my time.

I found that emails and the phone weren’t effective.  Skype and other new media weren’t communication channels in which he was at all interested.  In-person sessions seemed to work best.

In those in-person meetings, he was often uncomfortable, shifting his position from one pose to another; crossing his arms and uncrossing them; looking at me directly and then looking away while he was talking.  To put him more at ease, I used the technique called mirroring: I simply assumed whatever body position he had assumed and tried to talk with the same emphasis and emotion that he was exhibiting.  This put him at ease and communication seemed to go better.

The additional dimension I added to our interactions was my intuitive response to him.  I asked myself, “How do I feel I should be with him?  Should I be friendly?  Cool?  Business-like and competent?”  I asked myself, “What is my body telling me?  What do I really feel about him?”

Now, this may seem a little touchy-feely but we all have responses to people.  And it almost always shows up in how we feel.  For me, it’s been a long struggle to recognize and appreciate that in myself.  I’ve worked fairly seriously on trying to sense what is going on in my own reaction to someone.  I’ve done work in enhancing the awareness I feel in my body: what am I feeling in my chest?  My navel area?  My legs?

With this person I was working with, I felt a strong feeling in my chest area that I just needed to be present for him.  Calm, collected and showing that I was listening and really, really bringing him and what he was saying into my consciousness.

Over the two years I worked with him that was the demeanor I tried to embody when I worked with him.  I wasn’t always able to keep that mental and physical attitude but I was able to do so most of the time.  It wasn’t that our work relationship was warm and incredibly friendly but we did have a good working relationship and maintained a cordial work relationship.

The message behind all this for me is that it is critical for me to pay attention to the small things I may overlook: how a person holds themselves; senses in my body about what it is to work with a particular person.  There is a lot of good information coming to each of us and we just need to attune ourselves to it and use those senses to inform the way we work with people on our projects.

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3 thoughts on “Tune and Trust Your Intuitions”

  1. Loved this article, Eric! Most of my education taught me to ignore my intuition, and now I find it is very handy, not at all “black magic”, and grounded in the human brain’s amazing ability to interpret complex behaviors and situations. And with all the emphasis on neuroscience and the impact on leadership and relationships at work, it seems we’re starting to understand what Henry Ford once said “I hired employees and PEOPLE showed up!”

  2. Loyal, those are very interesting and astute thoughts. I’ve often thought the same things but you’ve pulled all the issues together really well. It sounds like you should do a blog on that! Thanks for your comments.

  3. Right on! Great stuff, Eric. The richest and best communications we can have with anyone is face-to-face. All other forms cut off one or more channels of information exchange between people. Skype video puts us at a distance, we can’t touch the person; phone means we can’t see their facial ques and they can’t see ours; email takes away the voice inflections; instant messaging, although convenient and amusing at times, takes away the richness of longer sentences and explanations; and lastly, texting takes away almost everything but basic idea exchange. The sad thing is that the latest ‘digital’ generations are growing up preferring the less rich forms of communications and thus are not learning to read facial and voice ques. How can we expect them to run this country when they have no skills for sitting down across a table from an important dignitary and negotiating tough deals?

    Very scary indeed!

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