• joe@jhanderson.biz   
    (206) 351-5607   

  • I was recently chatting with a program manager friend of mine about emotional intelligence. He astutely pointed out that pride can be one of the biggest emotional pitfalls for development teams. For smart people, who are being paid to be smart and have achieved success by being smart, it is so easy – indeed natural – to be proud of the elegant solutions that we conceive with intelligence and craft with care. When, as sometimes happens, circumstances (missed requirements, changing circumstances, sometimes even erroneous assumptions) mean that the solution isn’t viable – the pride means that it often takes some time for an individual or a team to come to terms with the fact. In the meantime, the schedule moves on and the impact of the problem grows.

    Let’s look at four aspects of emotional intelligence and consider how they can help minimize the potential negative impacts of pride on a technology delivery initiative:

    • Self-awareness: There is nothing wrong with having any emotional experience in its fullness. Pride – just like anger, fear, or shame – is a human quality and is a natural part of being alive. The measure of emotional intelligence is the degree to which you are aware of those emotions. So as you’re writing a great project plan or a great piece of code or a great business plan, you notice how that feels in your body. You notice the expansive thoughts going through your head. You pay attention to the rush of pheromones, the pleasurable sensations that go with doing something amazing. No need to take anything away from that joy – but there is definitely a need to notice it. And then when the product manager tells you that what you did won’t work, doesn’t meet the need, isn’t what’s asked for – then you also notice the feelings of anger or betrayal or humiliation (and these terms are not too strong to describe how it feels in that moment).
    • Self-regulation: Not only can you be aware of the expansion of pride, or the collapse of disappointment, or the explosion of frustration: you can make choices based on that awareness. You can choose to slow down a bit when you’re feeling overly revved up by the joy of what you’re creating (“am I really building the right thing? Should I maybe get some input about that?”) And in that crucial moment when someone is saying your beautiful baby is ugly…you can choose to acknowledge your reaction to that (“OK, this is really pissing me off/making me sad/making me feel bad about myself”), and then, reasonably quickly, turn the ensuing conversation into something positive (“I’m sorry we didn’t talk about that earlier…[deep breath] now what can we do to make it better?”).
    • Empathy: The business owners and product managers and designers and developers you work with also take pride in their work, and also get frustrated when circumstances reveal gaps or shortcomings. Empathy is the skill of putting yourself in their shoes, of recognizing that their emotional arcs are remarkably similar to your emotional arcs. They get just as much satisfaction from doing good work as you do. They get just as disappointed, when reality invalidates their work, as you do. Being empathetic requires that you have some degree of both self-awareness and self-regulation (so you have the space to see what others are experiencing). At the same time, being empathetic helps you manage your own emotions, since you’re not just thinking about yourself and your experience.
    • Social skills: Beyond empathy lies the ability to act compassionately toward others: you take your inner work of empathizing and make it public. A simple way to do this is to acknowledging the other’s feelings. “I know you worked really hard on that [code, design, business plan]. And I know how painful it is to have to let it go.” This is statement of your common humanity gives you both a basis for moving forward in trust. Of course, the only way to pull this off is to really believe it! And that belief can only come when you are truly aware of those same emotions in yourself.

    The consequences of the pride we take in our work introduces a lot of complexity into the dynamics of delivery. Emotional intelligence, in all the flavors above, reduces the time it takes to manage that complexity, helps keep team members on the right track in the first place, and makes it easier to get back on the right track quickly when that’s needed.

    You can learn more about how to develop your emotional intelligence skills at my Emotional Intelligence for Technology Delivery class, October 25, 2017 from 4-6pm in Pioneer Square. Learn more and register here.