They say that two-thirds of all communication is nonverbal. It’s not about what is said, but the way it is said. Body signals, gestures, and eye contact are examples of this and often they are unconsciously done. A neutral message can turn into a negative one if the body language and the verbal message don’t match.
Even without using words, the nonverbal signals can be interpreted. But how does knowing this help Product Managers and most importantly, how can they use it to their advantage? In a recent event, Vivek Bedi from LearnVest talked about Emotional Intelligence for Product Management. Here’s what we picked up from it.
Vivek has been the Head of Product at LearnVest and Head of Consumer Experience for Digital Products at Northwestern Mutual since 2015. He broke into product over 15 years ago and studied Engineering and Computer Science. He worked at Goldman Sachs for 13 years, first as an engineer and after 2 years realized that he didn’t like it. He loves startups sharing his knowledge through giving keynote talks whenever he’s able to!
Let’s start with Vivek’s simple question. If you had to spend 24 hours a day, 7 days a week for 14 days with one person, what would they be like? Patient? Flexible? Collaborative? Thoughtful? Funny? Empathetic? The question has a lot in common with qualities that a good product Manager should have. However, they are all adjectives on the softer side.
Product Managers are involved in everything when it comes to a product and they need their team members to get along with them and vice versa. When there are a lot of people in the room (designers, engineers, and developers) and a problem needs to be solved who do they all turn to for a solution? The Product Manager.
Emotional intelligence is an important skill for Product Managers. It’s not just about how you can manage your own emotions, but also about how you adapt to other people’s emotions. For engineers, the world may be more black and white, but for PMs, everything’s gray. Here are our four tips on how to master emotional intelligence as a PM.
Connect on an emotional level
Reading the room when you walk in is very important. It doesn’t have to take a long time. Just to do a quick check on what people are expressing on their faces. That way you can pick up on some emotional clues and are more capable to react to them.
Team empathy, engaging with your team and making time for people you work with is also crucial. Build relationships by making time to have coffee with the team. Also, get deep with the conversations. Give something of yourself to the conversation.
Manage your lizard brain
There’s a primitive part of your brain that reacts to a situation before evaluating it. Control that. Examples of this can be a ‘Homer Simpson’ type of explosion in situations where you feel anger.
Instead of letting that rage out, think first. Evaluate the situation from the point of view where you are a bystander and watching it happen. Maybe the situation doesn’t require an explosion of anger. Instead, use curiosity to deflect your emotions and rename the feeling from anger to hurt, sadness or something else. Think about what you might have done wrong.
Recognize your primary emotions from the secondary ones
Emotions are divided into primary and secondary ones. Anger, pride and nervousness are examples of primary ones, whereas insecurity, sadness and being upset are secondary ones. Primary feelings come to you first, but after a quick check-in with yourself, you can realize that the primary feeling isn’t really what you’re feeling.
Say “hi” to the people you work with
Sounds obvious, but not everybody does it. It’s such a small, little thing but do remember to greet the people in your team and ask how they are. Be engaging with the team and lighten up the atmosphere with a quick chat about other stuff than work.
Questions to Vivek from the audience
When you’re brand new in a company how do you get going?
When I look at every single role that I’ve taken on, I think the first 30 days are most important. As humans, we are wired to see results. In our minds, we’re thinking of how to make the greatest impact and show that we’ve achieved a quick win. If you take that route, you’re probably not going to be that successful. I took that route and failed in doing it.
In the first 30 days, you’re learning how people work in the process, how things get done there, who are the right people that make the decisions, who are going to be the people that you partner with. It goes back to a lot of the chats and learning situations. The best way is to go and say “I have no idea of any of this, teach me.” Do 1-on-1 conversations. Knowledge is power. The more you learn from people, the faster you can have a big win.
My advice would be to embrace yourself in the team, learn who’s out there, learn how the process works, figure out if it is a white board company or meetings company and if you need to involve this team or only the other team. You can even go to people and ask what they do in the company and how you can help them. Before you can be impactful, you need to learn how the organization works.
How do you connect with people at a deeper level when there are a lot of people in the company?
It’s really important to remember that not everyone is going to be your friend. I think co-workers and friends aren’t always the same. In some cases, they could be, and that’s great, but everybody that you work with doesn’t have to be your friend. If you’re trying to make everyone your friend, then it’s not going to work.
There are always going to be people that you’re just going to be doing business with. You can take the coffee chat approach, but that might not work with somebody that just doesn’t see eye to eye with you. If that happens, you should just treat it as a business transaction. What I do is I say “we need to do this deliverable can we get together and figure out how we can to do this”. Get both of your views together and meet half way.
I’ll be honest with you. There are tons and tons of books and they’re great, but when you go to your first job, you realize that none of the things in the books make sense because real life isn’t like that.
However, I would suggest blogs and TED talks because this way, you get opinions from people in the industry. “Living in the Gray” is a good book, as well as True North. The problem is that to read about EQ; you’re going to have to look for books other than product management.
The more you read people’s nonverbal signals, the more you learn and the better you get at doing it. On top of managing everything else related to the product, Product Managers also have to manage people’s emotions. Pick up on the cues that people send. When you make a decision, observe what people think about it even if they don’t say anything. That will help not only you, but them, as well.