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22. Not Taking it Personal

Here is one story that explains yesterday’s post on not taking the frustrations of others personally.

One day while working at Lockheed Martin Space, our project manager asked me to attend a customer update meeting. I never shy away from speaking with the “big wigs” so I accepted.

On this occasion, I knew that I would be required to represent a project that we were working on which had not made much progress and anticipated it being a fiery discussion.

When the conference call began, I was asked to provide status on where we were with migrating and executing software code written by another vendor.

“We have made changes to the code, necessary for running in our environment, and we should be executing today…”

After about 60 seconds of speaking, the colonel cut me off and sounded quite bothered.

“What you are saying really has me concerned. Let me explain why.” – She said.

“Sure” I said with no concerns for what was coming next.

When someone is frustrated, it is a great idea to be receptive to hearing them out.

“It seems like we missed our opportunity to run the code” she started.

“I have already told my superiors that we were going to make progress.”

It turns out that she had been eager to tell them that not only were we going to make progress, but that during this tiny window of opportunity of 2 days, that we’d be able to show something for it.

“I see” I said, thinking about what I had heard, but not taking what she said personally.

And then the fears and assumptions started coming out…

“What I’m really concerned about, is somehow the vendor making it impossible for us to run.” (A ludicrous idea)

“I have this feeling that they are talking behind closed doors right now, about how we can’t get this to run.”

On she went, with one concern after another. Even though I was the primary person involved with migrating over and doing this work. Because I had kept my cool, and focused on really listening to this person’s frustrations, the frustrations were never aimed at me, even though I was the primary person involved in the work in question.

People want to vent frustrations, not start a fight.

Just because a person is venting frustrations, even to the person that they might be frustrated with, they are not attempting to pick a fight. They want to be heard.

The more I listened to the colonel’s concerns, the more I realized her concerns came from things that had nothing to do with the work we were doing.

“I understand what you are saying Mike, but what am I supposed to show them? How can I show them that we’ve made progress?” – She said.

It was clear, that we had not helped our customer be able to articulate that not only the expected progress was happening, but great things were around the corner.

Had I become defensive, I never would have made it passed “the work hasn’t been completed.” Instead, I received considerable amount of insight into how our customer thinks and how to empower them. In turn this would give us breathing room, to do the actual work needed to accomplish the mission.