Interpersonal Management Skills – Part 2

In a prior post, we began coverage of Interpersonal Management Skills which are crucially important in project management given that it is a people-oriented profession.

As a reminder, the skills, in their entirety, include:

  1. Clarifying and Confirming (Click here to read that post)
  2. Constructive Criticism (The topic of this post)
  3. Managing Differences
  4. Crediting
  5. Discussion Skills

Constructive Criticism

Use: to give critical feedback in a way that promotes acceptance and action; to promote high levels of motivation, morale, and mutual respect.

First, when possible, it is important to deliver constructive criticism in a one-on-one setting. While that may not always be possible, the approach should remain the same.

That is, a well-received approach to delivering constructive criticism involves giving the person credit for what they’ve done well prior to sharing the less-than-positive feedback we must deliver. And, closing out the conversation by reinforcing to the person how much we appreciate their efforts.

For example, let’s say we held a meeting last week in which a team member (Frank) demonstrated a mock-up version of a new customer intake form. And, the team loved it, with just a few minor tweaks required. Frank indicated at that time that he could have a working version of the form ready for an important follow-up review in just a few days.

Upon checking in with Frank, in preparation for the follow-up meeting, he indicates he was not able to update the form as previously committed.

The first step here is to take a nice, deep breath (or two)…

At this point, we might respond with a statement such as: Frank, I want to thank you for the excellent mock-up you shared last week. You pulled that together based upon a ton of feedback from the team and your effort is greatly appreciated. That said, during that meeting, we discussed what you agreed were minor edits that could be made for our follow-up discussion so that we could close this out and move forward. Since this wasn’t done, we are now behind schedule. What can be done to get us back on track as well as prevent this (missed commitments) from occurring in the future? Again, your work on the mock-up was fantastic and we look forward to seeing the outcome of the final edition.

The way I’ve found to remember this technique is by referring to it as the “sandwich approach.”

The intent here is to build the other person up with regards to the good work they’ve done prior to sharing the less-than-positive feedback and then reconfirming how much we appreciate their efforts as part of the team.

A key guideline here is that we must NEVER do this by attempting to build someone up with shallow praise or flattery. What is shared in appreciation must be genuine or we will have failed miserably in trying to meet our objective.

So, while delivering constructive criticism may not be our favorite thing to do, there are times when it becomes absolutely necessary. And, if we do it properly, we can accomplish two objectives: building the person up for the great work they’ve done and call their attention to the fact that their recent performance didn’t meet expectations.

Another way I’ve heard people frame this approach is: we are to “soften the blow before lowering the boom.”

In future posts, we’ll cover the remaining Interpersonal Management Skills.

As a reminder, if there is one statement that provides the best advice I could share on interpersonal management, it would be: “It is not what you say, but how you say it! ” If we model that simple guidance in EVERY interaction we have with others, it will go a TREMENDOUS way in establishing and maintaining harmonious communications and relationships.

In closing, if you are looking to improve PM capabilities in yourself, or organization, feel free to reach out so that we can discuss how I can help!

Click here to go to part 3 of Interpersonal Management Skills.

Click here to return to our topical index of articles on High Performance Project Management.

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