Positive is the keyword in communications

CommunicationA recent exchange with a colleague made me realize the importance of setting a positive tone in all our communications.

We were assigned to work together and we were told to coordinate schedules. While I recognize there has been a lot of confusion about the project, I have been trying to do my best to keep up a positive attitude and just that morning I had emailed the team detailing my availability. She calls me in the afternoon and the conversation goes along these lines:

Mary Translator: Hi, it’s Mary. I hope I’m not interrupting.

Daniela: Not at all. How are you? How can I help you?

Mary: *sigh* I’m SO confused.

Daniela: What do you mean? What are you confused about?

Mary: I… I don’t know what we’re supposed to do, what the schedule is… I’m confused, confused, confused.

Daniela: (Keeping an upbeat tone in light of my interlocutor’s attitude) I understand; have you seen the PDF with the schedule we received last week?

Mary: The PD-what? (I swear she said that.)

Daniela: We received a PDF with the schedule last week. Today I looked at it and sent my availability so that we can coordinate.

Mary: *sigh* I don’t know… I regret having signed up for this… *more sighs* I didn’t know it was going to be like this…

Daniela: I understand it’s a bit of a challenge, but let’s start by looking at the schedule and we can discuss afterwards, what do you think?

Mary: Yeah, I guess I have to go through my emails and find the schedule…

The conversation kept going and I did my best to calm her down and instill some positiveness into her. At the end, she promised she would look at the schedule and either call me or email me.

This reminded me of my experience as a project manager where I learned to deal with different personalities and cultural differences, while promoting teamwork and fostering cooperation. It was not always easy because sometimes people –especially freelancers– tend to forget they are service providers and can quickly become prima donnas.  As a project manager, I would try to avoid dealing with those individuals as much as possible and would actively seek a replacement for the troubling freelancer.

Most project managers do not like confrontation (ok, there are some out there, but they really belong in a different industry) and will not put up a fight; instead, they will fight a quiet battle and you know they are victorious when you never hear back from them. They have successfully replaced you and that is their revenge.

This was a well-learned lesson that I apply both in my personal life and as a professional. Whenever a difficult situation arises, I go through a mental checklist:

  1. Keep a positive attitude. We have established it is a difficult situation; there is no point in making it even more awkward by having a bad disposition, like Mary Translator.
  2. What is my role in the situation at hand? This is very important because it keeps me focused. In the above example, I did not do anything to create her frustration (it was our first direct contact!). We were on equal footing.
  3. What can I do/offer to improve the situation, if anything? Depending on the answer to the previous point, sometimes it is just impossible to bring anything to the table but our good intentions (hence, the importance of #1). I pointed out to Mary that there was a schedule she could review, and that I have indicated my availability as a starting point to create our own schedule.
  4. Be prepared to negotiate. This is not applicable in this case, but it would be once she reviews the schedule and gets back with me. I now know she is frustrated and probably will not be as flexible with some items; so my homework now is to see what are those things I absolutely cannot forgo and what items are up for negotiation.
  5. Try to bring the other person on board. Even if we are dealing with somebody in a managerial position, it is much better to feel we are working together (collaborating) than being different and opposing parties in a situation. I tried fostering this sense of collaboration with Mary by inviting her to look at the schedule, find the best times for her and then discussing it together.
  6. Show you genuinely care by following up. If I have not heard from her within a few days, I will call her to see how she is doing and to keep this project moving forward.

Really, if you think about it, it is not my job to keep Mary happy (much less to put up with her attitude), or to make any of this work. I have many other projects in queue, so why bother with this one? Well, it brings a certain sense of accomplishment to know I have positively influenced something or somebody; I like offering solutions, not causing problems or making them worse. Of course, I have called the manager and told her about this, so hopefully things will improve.

But if they do not, at least I have done everything I can, I have shown both to the manager and my colleague that I am a team player, and on that note, I rather be the one choosing not to work with them again after this project, than being quietly dismissed from future assignments.

3 thoughts on “Positive is the keyword in communications

    1. Thank you for stopping by, Olga! You’re absolutely right: I try to apply this attitude to all areas in my life, and while we cannot control the type of response we’ll receive in a given situation, at least I do my part to work toward a positive outcome. It’s all we can do!

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