Being likable, winning supporters, and building better products is an ability that you can learn.
Product management is one of the most contradicting of all professions. Product Managers need to be product experts and an important thing: every day, we need to be aware that we know nothing and learning everything again. We must be creative, articulate multimedia marketers, accountable for the business, and also able to speak about technology, finance, and legal issues sometimes.
As our success in life depends on the richness and the depth of personal and professional relationships, in product management, the more likable we are, the deeper relationships we build, the better and broader our products get. Exceptionally likable people not born charming — likability can be learned, just like any other skill. Even I am still learning and making many mistakes as a human being, I want to share few key behaviors that I am trying to practice every single day, and I think it can help you improve your product management and your social skills as well.
First of all, to be clear, there is no right or wrong way to interact with people, which means connecting with others in a way that feels right for you — being you. So here I boil it down to 3 essential habits:
1. Listen intelligently – which means listen more than you speak.
Listen intelligently requires that you focus on what the other person is saying, active listening, absorb it, and interpret it without judgment.
Active listening, you can build trust, discover interests, and identify common passions. Listening is critical for product managers, and it helps you build rapport and express empathy.
After 20 years of working with many types of product managers and many kinds of technology environments, I saw many problems and failings happened just because when communicating, people often “wait to speak” instead of ‘hear’ attentively. It is funny because I saw good product managers listening actively to their customer’s interviews, strong data-oriented but failing apart to listen actively to their team, and just because of that, the product or the bet failed on the strategy or the execution. I posted an interest observation about the Netflix show Mindhunter, where FBI agents interview serial killers to understand how they can catch potential serial killers and a parallel with how the user interviews are conducted. It can help you in any situation.
Also, here two books that can help you with many examples and active listening exercises and guide you on how to practice empathy in any relationship:
2. Be responsive – When you are unresponsive, people assume you are unorganized, pretentious, or incapable.
A lack of responsiveness is a common mistake I find in businesses environment, and I had bad experiences in my career. I am not suggesting you or your team respond to every e-mail or Slack when received, but If the person who sent it is a member of your team, and the inquiry is reasonable, you should respond immediately.
I am trying to set my goal to respond to all e-mail or Slack I receive by the end of every day — it is so hard. But I am trying to do it even if the response is a simple “I need to get back to you.”
I started to use automation apps to help me automate simple tasks – we should not have to waste time doing something that a machine can do. My goal here is not to promote any app, that’s why I am not telling the app I am using, but of course, you heard or probably are already using Zappier or IFTTT.
You can set up auto-responses in Slack that send when someone mentions you in a post or messages you directly in the app. Your team and colleagues won’t feel ignored, and you won’t have to babysit your notifications. Another trick is to turn important e-mails into Trello task cards when someone sent you an e-mail. If so, you can create an automation that says, “When I add a star to an e-mail in Gmail, automatically create a Trello task card from the e-mail.”
If you are not responsive, your team can understand that you are not truly interested, and your lack of responsiveness can be pervasive in your team and your product execution.
3. Invests in strengths – highlight people’s strengths, not points to improve.
We live in a “fixing” environment, keeping our focus on our weaknesses to fix rather than the strengths we already have and can continually invest in increasing them. I recently had an experience that was hard to admit that I regret, but I am so grateful for a change of mindset. I provided feedback for one member of my team that I should have to keep the focus on turning his strengths from good to great – even that he didn’t accomplish his goal, then trying to keep him aware of his weaknesses to help him to fix it. The result was he has consumed by them.
The problem is this mindset invites negative emotions, like anger, fear, and anxiety, that does not help us to get motivated or boost our creativity so that we can better think of solutions to the problems that we face.
This experience, coupled with some research on strengths, has challenged me. An important part of our job as a product manager is helping people up so that they can be as good as possible with their “shot” of specialty, and then they will help you to build good products.
Many useful tools can help us capitalize on strengths in our team. Author Marcus Buckingham explains it in his book Now, Discover Your Strengths.
Great PMs let people know that you aren’t ignoring them, and these habits can help you to build your reputation as about your products.
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