Taking Off the Mask

October 31, 2017 by FlexPro

Many people love Halloween because it can be fun to play dress-up and pretend to be someone else, even if just for a few hours. So, who’s really behind that mask?

It can be a challenge to figure it out.

The most effective project managers (and people managers in general) are highly skilled at getting behind that mask. They can decipher what makes people tick, what their fears are, what brings them joy and satisfaction. This is easier said than done, of course. It takes time, skill, and a certain amount of emotional intelligence. The truth is, it requires taking a genuine interest in each individual human being. The key word here is “genuine”. You just can’t fake interest in people. Most people can sense insincerity a mile away!

I was not a Psychology major but have always had an interest in “social psychology” and understanding what’s behind a person’s actions or behavior. I’ve come to understand why therapists often go back to childhood experiences; these early events are powerful for explaining why someone acts or reacts a certain way.

In the business world, we often err on the side of “keeping things business” since it’s “safer” not to get too personal. I do understand this, and sometimes stay in this safe zone myself, or at least start there. However, relationships (business and personal) get stronger when we know more of what’s underneath that exterior…when we see behind the mask. One way to open the door to a more personal relationship is to share something about yourself. Someone has to go first to go beyond “reporter talk” about the weather or sports. If you take the initiative to share something personal, usually the other person will do the same. If you go even deeper and share a fear or something else that makes you vulnerable, the other person may feel comfortable enough to open up too.

Of course, certain topics are better avoided at work, but conversations can get deeper even on business topics. For example, a client recently revealed to me that he had been “burned” with a colleague breaching confidentiality on a business project. This caused him to be very wary about sharing confidential details on the next project. It was totally understandable, and his past experience helped me relate to his anxiety. If I hadn’t listened long enough to understand his fears, I might’ve just concluded that he was irrational or ridiculous. Empathy goes a long way toward building relationships, and ultimately running great teams.

If your team is open to it, you may also want to do personality inventories to understand each other better. There are many options like the classic Myers-Briggs Type Indicator or others such as the Enneagram, which I find especially interesting.

Even if you don’t embark on actually taking the tests, there’s still some value to reading about the personality types. You may recognize traits and behaviors you’ve been observing. In my own Enneagram results, I scored highest as Challenger, Enthusiast and Reformer, and lowest as Peacemaker. Others may be totally opposite and emerge as strong Peacemakers. Most projects will benefit from having a mix of types. Innovative ideas come from diverse ways of thinking and operating. So, there are no right or wrong types. The goal is to understand each other well enough to get the most out of each person by capitalizing on each individual’s strengths!

I hope I’ve piqued your curiosity enough to try a little harder to get behind the masks of your team members, (or even your family and friends for that matter!) In the end, we are all individuals, with unique traits and behaviors, and each has something valuable to contribute. Frankly, it’s what makes our days interesting and multi-dimensional…and downright fun! As always, I’d love to hear your experiences. It brings me joy to get your emails and learn a little more about you…

-Rose Cook, FlexPro CEO

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