Cartoon monster with it's lips closed

# On biting your tongue

I can be a really good listener. But I'm also talkative by nature. One of the big challenges in managing any project team is knowing when to bite your tongue and when to speak. That goes for verbal communication and non-verbal communication.

# Words chosen with care

Words are powerful tools and they should be wielded with care. The rights words, at the right time and with the right tone, can spark joy in others. The wrong ones can cause many an ill effect. Picking words should be considered an artisan craft.

It's surprisingly difficult to speak without judgment. Others will find meaning where you intended none. Although it is unavoidable that you be misheard or misunderstood, we can limit the possibility for misinterpretation by:

  • Straying from wording that implies moralistic judgment or evaluation (e.g. 'Paul spend over 60 hours in the office last week' and not 'Paul works too much')
  • Making observations only when specific to time and place (e.g. 'you were late to our last 3 team meetings' and not 'you are often late to our team meetings')
  • Identifying and expressing feelings without evaluations (e.g. 'I feel disconnected from the team' and not 'I feel ignored by the team', which implies a judgement on what others are doing to you)
  • Be specific in requests you're making (e.g. 'I would like you to rewrite this piece of code to use environmentals instead of hardcoding these variables.' and not 'Please don't hardcore your variables.')

# Preventing loaded questions

To prevent loaded questions, an interesting exercise is to write one down and try to come up with all possible ways how "Evil You" might spin your words to have different meanings. Or if you find that difficult, have a friend play 'bad cop' and tear your wording apart. Let's say you want permission to work remotely:

Can't we just work remotely on this project?

Devil's advocate take on this:

  • It implies the decision has already been made and that the answer is 'no'.
  • The use of 'just' conveys a sense of "you're being difficult" about this.
  • The use of the 'can' means that your answer will be a binary response: either you can, or you can't. The answer might be or require more nuance than that.
  • Because you're asking in 'we' form, what is applicable to the group will now be applicable to you. It could be that remote is an option for some, but not for all.

A more positive reading:

  • States that remote work would be more efficient for this project
  • Challenges the status quo of 'no remote work'.
  • Limits the scope of said challenge to this project only.

And finally an alternative way of phrasing:

Is remote work an option for this project?

# Be the last one to speak.

Introverts, in my experience, like to bide their time in a group discussion. They will often speak last or only when addressed directly. What's great about this is that it allows to carefully consider previous arguments as well as the politics around taking in a position. It occurred to me that for a project manager, being the last to speak offers similar benefits.

When you speak too soon, you risk directing the conversation and suppressing opposing views. To effectively help the team, it's best to withhold voicing an opinion or to be late in giving one. That is hard, especially if you're knowledgeable on the matter, but helps create the environment for healthy team collaboration.

An old sales trick is to let a long silence fall in your conversation. People have a tendency to fill that silence. This can lead to surprising insights into what's top of mind in a team. Also, taking some time before you answer conveys that you're thinking about what has been said. This helps people to be and feel heard.