When you sit down with people at work and ask them about the problems that they are having — the problems that you are there to solve — How often do you think about the following?
- Is the person recently married?
- Is he going through a divorce?
- Is she having a child?
- Is he having an affair?
- Is her mother ill?
- Is his father dying?
- Does her son have cancer?
- Is his daughter going through a divorce?
- Was her best friend hurt by her boyfriend?
- Is he spending enough time with his children and wife for them all to be fulfilled?
- Is her husband fighting in a war overseas?
- If you are speaking with a man, what role does his gender play in how he considers his relationship with you?
- If you are speaking with a woman, what role does her gender play in how she considers her relationship with you?
- What about your own gender? What about your sexuality? Do these have an impact on the way that you work with others?
Are any of these things less important than the work at hand?
There’s a phrase you’ll sometimes hear at work: “Leave your personal life at the door.” Good leaders will do their best to do that, but not everyone can be expected to be so skilled. If you expect everyone to be able to let go of the most important things in life when they walk into the office, you are fooling yourself. Remember, as universal and important as work is in our culture — and while it provides a wage that allows us to live in our commercial world — you can, in fact, live well enough without work, as many people on this planet do, and have done, for eons. You cannot, however, live well without love.
When you are in the business of solving problems — which is, in fact, what people in software engineering and information technology get paid to do — you will not succeed without taking people’s psychological state into account. Love — whether romantic, familial, or otherwise — is arguably the most primal component of our psychological well-being.
Not too long ago, I was asked to speak to two groups of project managers for a professional development conference. At the top of each presentation, I asked the audience to identify the top three and bottom three skills for project managers. The list contained six skills. Five of these skills were uniformly found in ten different lists of top ten skills for project managers that I found online. These five skills were:
- Risk Management
Keep in mind that ten different people or organizations agreed that these five skills were of utmost important to project managers. None of them could actually be considered unimportant in any way, shape, or form. This was a trick question!
The sixth skill, which I selected for inclusion in this little survey, was not on a single top ten list that I could find. That skill?
The survey was administered to two groups of 32 project managers. There were strikingly similar results in each group:
Both groups of project managers uniformly picked Communication, Leadership, and Negotiation as the top three skills for project managers.
But the bottom three skills? Psychology, Risk Management, and Scheduling.
Remember, Risk Management and Scheduling can be routinely found in many top ten lists of skills for project managers. Credit is due the respondents for including Psychology in the middle of the pack, even though it merely made the top of the bottom three skills. I could be a cynic and interpret these results as implying that Psychology is the number one unimportant skill, but a fair number of each group put Psychology in the number three position, implying otherwise.
Nonetheless, there was agreement among the bulk of these respondents that Communication, Leadership, and Negotiation were more important than Psychology.
Is that a surprise?
For any of you out there who don’t think that Psychology is the most important skill that a project manager — or, frankly, most anybody in a role to solve other people’s problems — can have, please take a moment to ask yourself:
- How can you communicate if you don’t understand what your audience is going through?
- How can you lead if you don’t understand the people you are leading?
- How can you negotiate effectively if you don’t understand the unique perspectives and current mindsets of the involved parties?
- How can you manage risks if you don’t understand the mindset of the people who can bring about change?
- How can you schedule with great effectiveness if you don’t understand what your resources are going through?
As I pointed out in my third post here, there has been almost too much written about empathy. If you have gone through good leadership training, you have, no doubt, been taught of its importance. But as we apply empathy, do we always go as deeply as we should to consider the psychological — or, the love — condition of the humans we serve?
If you yourself know that love is the most important thing in your life, why might it be so easy for you to carve that out of your view of others? I suggest that this is a frequent sign of invisibleism. Reflect on the cell phone scenario of our August 27, 2020 post for a moment. Doesn’t that have everything to do with love?
The problem is that love is such a deeply personal thing, and we are not often privy to its details outside of our own purview. On your journey, keep in mind how private you keep your own love matters. It’s safe to assume that others are doing the same. But if you assume — correctly — that love is the single biggest driving force in people’s lives, you will begin to find indicators.
- Someone not interested in talking to you for several days?
- Someone need to leave work unexpectedly and postpone a meeting?
- Someone generally unhappy?
- Someone incredibly happy and distracted from work?
- Someone doesn’t care to learn the new software you wrote or deployed?
- Someone refusing to take the time to read your training materials about phishing?
In situations like this, how might love be involved? You may not be entitled to details, but you are entitled to consider what’s behind these behaviors. The empathic and compassionate are more likely to be able to figure out what’s going on, and that information just might provide the insight needed to approach work situations more effectively.
If you empathize about only one aspect of people’s lives, make it love. You’ll be sure to get something valuable back for your investment.
🎹 Music for this post: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Dhkx6CAEXfU.