Lacking Empathy

empathyAs a project manager, I personally believe empathy is one of the most important virtues.  I think it's one of those attributes that makes us most human.  You can't expect to take care of your team, or even customers, if you are unable to be empathetic.  Regardless if you can help someone, ask anyway.  Regardless if you can understand what they are thinking or feeling, try anyway. I recently participated as a juror in a criminal trial.  Though I knew it would be a personal inconvenience, I did it because I thought it was the right thing to do.  It was my obligation as a citizen, to do my part in ensuring justice was served.  Some would argue if it truly was, but I digress.  So, what's the point of this blog post?

About a month ago, I informed the necessary (corporate) parties who pay me that I had been selected to be part of a jury pool.  Upon sending them the necessary information, I was told I would be paid for a full 8 hour day, minus $20. (The amount Frederick County pays a juror for one day of service).  Considering the cost to short my paycheck was probably more than $20, I wasn't going to argue.  If that's what they wanted to do, it was a wash for me, with the exception of the work I had to delay for my customer.

Upon submitting my hours on the second day, I received a (billing) submission error.  Because it was an ambiguous error message, I send an email to accounting.  I said, upon completing my second day of jury duty and billing my time, I received the error.  Within a few minutes, I received a very short email response. It informed me I would only be paid for 1 day of jury duty, that "it's in the handbook" and I would have to bill my time to my Paid Time Off (PTO).  I was surprised I didn't get a "I'm sorry if there was a misunderstanding..." or "I regret to bring this to your attention..." email.  Seconds later I got another email.  It was one line.  "You can also take Leave Without Pay".

Let's take a moment to reflect.

Both of these emails came from the Human Resources department, not from my direct chain of command.  I did get a telephone call from my Director within a few minutes.  He apologized if I had misunderstood the corporate policy to only pay employees for one day of jury duty but added he would work with me if I had already made plans that would result in a PTO deficit.  I want to commend him on having empathy.  He showed true leadership in picking up the telephone and calling me.  He showed true leadership in listening to me vent for several minutes.  It didn't change anything but he certainly scored a few points in my book.

We're all human beings.  We all like to be treated like human beings. When in doubt, pick up the phone or go talk to someone directly. Most importantly, don't ever send a one line email that basically says "RTFM"

Like the image?  Find it at Pictofigo

Reasonable Doubt

Not GuiltyThis last week, I had the honor and frustration of serving on a jury in a criminal trial.  By working with so many stakeholders in my day-to-day activities, I figured it shouldn't be too difficult to use the same methods with witnesses and with my jury peers.  What was the goal?  Given the evidence, presented by both the prosecution and the defense, decide (as a group) if the defendant had been proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.  Unfortunately, being a juror was unlike managing regular stakeholders, where they can all maintain their own perspective throughout a project.  As a member of the jury, we had to offer a unanimous verdict; Guilty or Not Guilty.  The other very challenging thing we dealt with was a subjective term (compared to objective) called reasonable doubt.  Until all of the evidence was presented and we were asked to deliberate on the verdict, we were not allowed to speak to each other.  Only at that time were we able to define what reasonable doubt was.  Only then were we allowed to compare notes from the trial and come to a collective agreement. So that you understand why it was so challenging for use to reach our verdict, I'll condense two days of testimony into a few paragraphs.

The victim was a 73-year-old woman.  The defendant was a 21-year-old man.  After arriving home from taking the bus one dark winter night, the victim said she was assaulted by the defendant on her doorstep and her purse was stolen.  When she appeared on the stand, she said she had never seen him (the defendant) before but she would never forget his face.  When interviewed by the police the night of the attack, her son who lived with her told the police that she described the attacker to him as looking like the boy who had helped her with her groceries in the past.  The son knew who had helped her in the past and gave the police a name.  The victim was sent to the hospital and the police met her there with a series of photographs to make a positive identification.  She pointed to the defendant's picture and then another saying it he looks like him but then pointed back to the defendant and said that it was him, adding that he was on the bus with her that night.  The officer did NOT circle the photo like he normally did, when a victim makes a 100% positive ID of an attacker.

The day after the attack, the defendant was interviewed by the police.  He said he remembers seeing her on the bus but he could never do such a thing to her.  He said that he had helped her with her groceries in the past.  When he was asked where he was at the time of the assault, he said he was at his cousin's house playing video games.  Oddly enough, the cousin never appeared in court to corroborate his story.  When the cousin's wife testified, she said he was not there that night.

There was no other evidence offered.  The contents of the purse were never found.  The cell phone and food stamp card in the purse were never used.  So, what happened when the jury was asked to deliberate?  We compared notes and we debated.  When the foreman asked how many of us thought he was guilty, almost all of us put up our hands.  When the foreman asked who thought the prosecution had proved his guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, everyone put there hands down but one guy.

We needed to have 100% agreement.

My argument to him was, it would be a terrible tragedy that IF this guy would be convicted of a crime for no other reason than he had helped this lady with her groceries in the past and he was on that bus that night.  Nobody was debating, including the defendant, if he was on the bus or if he had helped her with her groceries before.  But nobody could prove that he was at the scene of the crime.  By reading his body language, several of us believed he was not an innocent person but we were uncertain he was guilty of this particular crime.  The final juror lamented and we rendered a verdict of not guilty.

The defendant burst into tears as our foreman stated not guilty to each of the three counts.  The prosecution then asked each of us to stand and respond guilty or not guilty.  One by one, we responded "Not Guilty".  The judge told the defendant he was free to go.  We were then told to return to the jury room.  We all agreed we should have felt more satisfaction in freeing this guy.  Moments later, the judge entered the chamber and informed us that the defendant had been charged in the past with the same thing, assault and theft.  She said the court was not allowed to give us this information and added that she believed, based on the evidence presented, that we would find him not guilty.

As I shook my head, the juror who sat next to me in the jury box said the right thing.

Though knowing this guy has done this before kind of bothers me, but I would rather set a guilty man free than to convict an innocent one.

Image: Pictofigo

Mitigated Speech and Project Negotiations

Try thisMitigated speech is a linguistic term describing deferential or indirect speech inherent in communication between individuals of perceived High Power Distance. The term was recently popularized by Malcolm Gladwell in his book, Outliers, where he defines mitigated speech as "any attempt to downplay or sugarcoat the meaning of what is being said". He described 6 degrees of mitigation with which we make suggestions to authority:

1. Command – “Implement this

2. Team Obligation Statement – “We need to try this

3. Team Suggestion – “Why don’t we try this?”

4. Query – “Do you think this would help us in this situation?”

5. Preference – “Perhaps we should take a look at this an an alternative”

6. Hint – “I wonder if we will run into any issues by following our current process”

As I observe the command and communication structure between a PMO and its members and contractors, I have the opportunity to witness mitigated speech every day.  Being direct (command) doesn't always work.  People need to learn to be flexible in their requests and negotiations if they have the hope those in power will implement new strategies.  Additionally, learn to read those around you to know what degree of mitigation you will use IF you intend to use it.

As I read Outliers, I started to think of the relationship between mitigated speech and Appendix G.8 (negotiation) of the PMBoK.

Negotiation is a strategy of conferring with parties of shared or opposed interests with a view of compromise or reach an agreement.  Negotiation is an integral part of project management and when done well, increases the probability of project success.

The following skills and behaviors are useful in negotiating successfully:

  • Analyze the situation.
  • Differentiate between wants and needs - both yours and theirs.
  • Focus on interests and issues rather that on positions.
  • Ask high and offer low, but be realistic.
  • When you make a concession, act as if you are yielding something of value, don't just give in.
  • Always make sure both parties feel as if they have won.  This is a win-win negotiation.  Never let the other party leave feeling as if he or she has been taken advantage of.
  • Do a good job of listening and articulating.

To summarize, stride to be a win-win negotiator and be aware of the mitigated speech you are using to conduct your negotiations.