Technology is Easy, People are Hard

connection product management Sep 01, 2021

How much of your day do you spend on interpersonal challenges?

…Managing an angry salesperson who is frustrated that a key customer feature is not on the roadmap.   

…Managing a CPO who does not understand why the schedule can’t be cut in half. 

…Or, interacting with another product manager who suddenly ‘needs’ your scrum team for their project.

Interpersonal issues are a significant source of stress, anxiety, and overwhelm for product managers. I have product managers call me whose marriages are on the line due to challenges at work. Others who were on the leadership track and are suddenly on a PIP because they have a new VP who does not like them.

Most times, these challenges arise because of communication issues. Being able to effectively communicate up, down, and across the organization is key to moving into leadership. 

First, social psychologists estimate that there is usually a 40%-60% loss of meaning in transmitting messages from sender to receiver. Wow. Over half of what we communicate to sales, engineering, marketing, and leadership is misunderstood.

Some studies suggest that over 90% of the meaning we derive from messages comes from nonverbal cues.  

Being clear in our communication is critical for innovation, teamwork, and leadership. All we do as product managers is communicate.

Here are the basics of communication. Put this list on your whiteboard or desk.

Listen:  Most of the time, we listen to respond. As the other person is talking, we are formulating our response. Product managers need to listen intently. To the words, the context, and the emotions behind the words.

Listen, Pause, Reflect, Respond. When you are communicating….

  • Do not multi-task. The email and Slack messages can wait.
  • Turn your phone over
  • Close your screen
  • Take your notes on a notebook
  • Look at the person in the eyes
  • If you need to stand up to focus, then stand up
  • Take a deep breath to quiet the mind to listen

Assume positive intent.  When dealing with an interpersonal challenge, how often do we assume the other person is just out to get us, or just a nasty person? To effectively communicate, put away all judgment, and assume the other person wants what is best for the product and the organization. 

Once you put away judgment, you can then start to ask good questions to understand where their point of view is coming from and their challenges. It is only then that you can effectively manage the challenge to come up with the right solution.

Don’t overstate or understate

We all have our favorite products. With all of the communication challenges, we must be straightforward with the realities of the market and the key KPIs. For example, when presenting a business case, do not just show the KPIs that help your case. Show all of the relevant KPIs.

I have never seen a time when a PM who overstated or understated metrics turn out well. It usually ends in disaster.

Glean information from nonverbal communications

When listening to others, including customers, leadership, and stakeholders, you must pay attention to their nonverbal actions. What is the tone of their voice? What are the facial expressions? Do they look stressed or nervous? Remember, 90% of communication is nonverbal, so you must be focused on both what they are saying and how they are saying it.

Simplify the complicated

One of the significant skills of a leader is being able to take complex issues and simplifying them when communicating. Yes, some need to understand the details. However, for a good chunk of your communication, start simple, and then as people ask questions, dive into the details. So many PMs tell me that everyone needs to understand the details of the issue. The challenge is people are both busy and have many issues in their heads. Keep it simple so they can understand. Then, if needed, go into the details.

To move into leadership, be happy at work, and inspire your team, product managers need to learn effective communication. This is what my product management clients know as part of my programs, and the results are nothing short of amazing (aka promotions, significant raises).

If you are DONE with being stuck in your career. If you want to get PROMOTED to leadership and are ready to take ACTION, then lean into the fear, have courage and take one of two options:

Option 1: Take a look at my Leadership Masterclass where I walk through the key ways to move into product leadership.

Option 2: If you are ready to take MASSIVE action to become a leader, schedule a complimentary breakthrough session. This is not a sales call but rather a strategy session where we’ll build a plan to help you move forward.

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