We all know that managing a project can be emotionally draining. On a bad day we spend most of our time resolving issues, mitigating risks and dealing with conflict. This can be draining because the stakes are high and because we want to do our best to protect the schedule. After all, our job is to remove blockages and fix problems so that the project can be delivered without delays. But might there be another reason why we’d want to find a solution to a risk or an issue?
Could it be, for instance, that we subconsciously find conflict, uncertainty and question marks so uncomfortable that we intuitively want to move away from them? Could it be that we hurry to find a ‘quick fix’ simple because we want to get away from an emotionally difficult situation? Wanting to avoid discomfort is human nature; most people go to great lengths to avoid the things they find unpleasant, more so than the things they desire.
Consider for instance the following situations;
- A member of your team has been underperforming for some time. You find it uncomfortable to confront him as he may take it badly, get defensive and ultimately highlight that your own level of support and leadership have been lacking. Instead of facing up to it, your ‘quick fix’ is to assign him less demanding work which somewhat disguises the issue.
- The sponsor has a habit of changing direction and altering the project’s strategic objectives and as a result the project team lacks focus. You don’t feel that you have the right amount of business knowledge to debate with the sponsor and fear that you would get ‘caught out’ if you attempted to. Instead your ‘quick fix’ is to effectively deal with change requests when they come up and adjust the plan accordingly. You keep hoping that it’s the last time your sponsor has a change or heart and try to motivate the team as best you can.
- Many of the planned tasks are taking longer than expected and the project has been delayed more than once. When a slippage occurs your ‘quick fix’ is to ask people to work evenings and weekends to make up for it. You don’t have the courage to temporarily stop the project, reassess and re-estimate it and be transparent about the true effort of remaining work to the client.
How emotionally challenging are you finding these situations and how likely are you to quickly want to fix them, for instance by smoothing the situation or by complying where you should instead be inquisitive? When we smooth a situation we may never get to the root cause and properly address the issue. Dealing with poor performance for instance, a project that’s going off track or an incoherent project sponsor requires us to face the issue, name it and address it, rather than patching it up. It is when we can stay with the issue emotionally and explore the underlying reasons that we can begin to resolve it.
Next time you find yourself in an emotionally challenging situation how can you find the courage to face up to it – and fully explore it – before moving forward? It is okay to feel uncomfortable as long as you don’t let the discomfort deter you.
Susanne Madsen is a project program manager, mentor coach, and author of The Project Management Coaching Workbook. She has over 15 years experience in managing and rolling out large change programs.
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