Project Management Institute

Bad behavior

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One of the main sources of stress in a team is putting up with difficult people. Make sure you're not part of the problem.

BY ALFONSO BUCERO, MSC, PMP, PMI FELLOW, CONTRIBUTING EDITOR

Every project manager must work with different types of people—and that often involves difficult personalities. I've dealt with many problematic people on projects over the years, as I'm sure you have, too.

As human beings, we all have good and bad behaviors. When we feel appreciated by others, good behavior dominates. But in times of stress and conflict, bad behavior can dominate.

I have found myself, as a project manager, moving from one extreme to the other, from a high to a low in a moment's time.

Once, while managing a project in Spain, I was so stressed out by the customer that during a meeting I threw a glass of water onto a table and broke it. I felt terrible. However, my team members helped me calm down, and after some quiet reflection and physical exercise, I recovered my positive attitude.

KEEPING A LEVEL HEAD

When we have high expectations of ourselves and fail to perform to them, we tend to be very hard on ourselves. Zachary Wong, PhD, author of Human Factors in Project Management: Concepts, Tools, and Techniques for Inspiring Teamwork and Motivation, found that people working on projects can behave at either the “upper” or “lower” level.

Upper-level players promote cooperation and move the team forward, demonstrating a positive attitude, a problem-solving mindset, transparency and openness. They tend to be open-minded, tolerant, giving and collaborative.

Lower-level players, on the other hand, are defensive, self-centered, insecure, fearful and negative. They're poor listeners and are impatient. Believe it or not, they can be successful individuals who are often bright, enthusiastic and hardworking. However, they do not work well with others and usually are not able to communicate clearly. They often feel that they are right.

Every time I manage a project, I observe how frequently these upper-and lower-level behaviors occur.

People who spend their time in these lower levels can be difficult to work with. Their negative behaviors reduce productivity, teamwork and fluent communication. Difficult people consume a lot of a team's time, resources, attention and energy, making everything a greater effort.

WHAT CAN YOU DO WHEN YOU FACE A DIFFICULT PERSON?

These are my best practices:

  • Do not join people on the lower level; it will only add to a negative environment.
  • Elevate your thinking and behaviors, and practice maintaining a positive attitude.
  • Understand that the common underlying element of difficult people is fear. By addressing their fear, you move toward a solution.
  • Do not get upset; it is not your problem.
  • Do not hate them; be empathetic.
  • Offer your help.

Most people are not persistently difficult; they have difficult moments. We can influence others and keep them on the upper level by practicing three simple behaviors: giving recognition, showing respect and trust, and making others feel relevant.

To avoid remaining mired in the lower level, we must either find the internal strength to take the upper path or receive help from others. If you need help, don't be afraid to ask for it. PM

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Alfonso Bucero, MSc, PMP, PMI Fellow, is an independent consultant who manages projects in Europe and Asia. He is the author of Today Is a Good Day: Attitudes for Achieving Project Success.

This material has been reproduced with the permission of the copyright owner. Unauthorized reproduction of this material is strictly prohibited. For permission to reproduce this material, please contact PMI.

FEBRUARY 2012 PM NETWORK

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