Guest Blog: 'Projects Are About People: Using Your Emotional Intelligence'

You are a Project Manager. You may not realize it, and you may have some other title engraved on your business card, but believe me—you are. Envision a Saturday morning.

Paint brush in hand, in-laws arriving tomorrow, and you angry at the realization that there’s not enough paint to finish the guest room. Your spouse is standing by, volunteering well-intentioned guidance “Don’t fall off that ladder!” 


At this very moment, you are a Project Manager, trust me.

What’s more, I can predict the outcome of this project is based in large part on the very next thing you do. It’s not whether you actually fall off that ladder, or whether you’re able to get more of the custom-colored paint. Sure, you’ll need to address those things… but the real predictor of how your day’s going to unfold is what you say next to your spouse:

Scenario #1.

You: “Duh! Thanks Einstein. It hadn’t occurred to me that I shouldn’t fall off the ladder.”

Spouse: “Just trying to help. Clearly you’ve got it all figured out, genius, so I’ll get out of your way and go to the mall for guest towels.

You: “Guest towels? I guess we’ll be able to hang those up to cover the wall where the paint runs out.”

Spouse: “Well, too bad the mall’s in the opposite direction of the paint store. See ya later.”

You: (grumbling) “Do I have to do EVERYTHING myself around here?” (as the loose rung on the ladder gives way, and you tumble to the floor.) 

No need to go further. It’s already a done deal that this room is not getting finished today. You’re low on paint, your ankle is sprained, your ladder is broken, and you’re home alone. But that’s not what killed it. It all went wrong at “Duh.” 

There is a fundamental truth about project management, whether it’s painting a room or launching a new product. Projects are about people. We tend to get very wrapped up in tools and methodology, when in fact we should keep those as simple as possible, and focus our energies on the people, instead.

'Emotional Intelligence' is a buzz-term in most workplaces that is largely misunderstood. It often gets written off as touchy-feely stuff that doesn’t apply to the workplace. In times past, emotional awareness and expression were considered to be liabilities in the workplace. The new reality is, however, that more and more people are realizing that emotions are critical to every interaction, especially in the workplace.

Emotional Intelligence is defined as “your ability to recognize and understand emotions, and your skill at using this awareness to manage yourself and your relationships with others.” (Drs. Travis Bradbury and Jean Graves, authors of Emotional Intelligence 2.0.) As popularized by Dr. Daniel Goleman, there are four core skills that define Emotional intelligence—or “EQ” as it’s called.

  1. Self-Awareness: the ability to recognize your emotions in real-time and understand your general tendencies for how you react to emotional triggers.
  2. Self-Management: using awareness of your emotions to choose your responses to positively direct your behavior
  3. Social Awareness: recognizing and understanding the emotions and perspectives of others.
  4. Relationship Management: using an awareness of your emotions and the emotions of others to manage interactions successfully.

So let’s apply this to our painting scenario. In terms of self-awareness, you got sand-bagged by your angry frustration upon discovering that there wasn’t enough paint. That emotional trigger put you in a state of annoyance, which sent your self-management spiraling in your curt response to your spouse’s suggestion of caution. In this state, your social awareness was compromised as your Spouse responded defensively and withdrew from the situation. And as for relationship management, well, you’re sitting alone on the floor with a sprained ankle…so clearly that’s not going so well.

So let’s replay the scenario with some E.Q. sprinkled in.

Scenario #2.   (as Spouse suggests that you not fall off the ladder)

YOU: (taking a deep breath and realizing that Spouse is probably trying to be helpful—and you’re just pissed about the paint...) Thanks, hon. I’ll be careful.

Spouse: No, I mean, watch out for that third rung on the ladder. It looks loose from this angle.

YOU:   Oh wow, thanks, I hadn’t even noticed. Darn, I just found out we’re low on paint, so I’ll get a new ladder when I go to the paint store. Now I’m getting worried about being able to finish this today.

Spouse: Yeah, me too. How about if I run to the paint store while you finish taping around the windows? That way you won’t have any down-time.

YOU: Thanks, darling. You’re the BEST! (big smooch)

There’s a pretty good chance this room will get painted today, thanks to your Emotional Intelligence. You had the presence of mind to identify the source of your anger, and filter your reaction to your spouse. As a result, you received valuable information about the broken ladder, and enlisted your spouse in problem-solving. Teamwork will save this day—not to mention your ankle.

It’s no different for “real” Project Managers. There are countless opportunities for us to manage and filter our interactions with others in order to foster trust and rapport. These are often the defining moments of a project, and as with the painting scenario, we can predict the outcome based on the success of these interactions. Projects really are about people, and Project Managers with high EQ are many times more likely to deliver successfully. Think about it the next time someone on your project team says something extremely annoying, critical, or defensive. Did they really-- or are you just angry about the paint?


By Pam Stanton,  The Project Whisperer    

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