5 ways to become more people intelligent

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I’m not just being ‘nice’ or ‘soft’ when I write this. There is a lot of evidence that happy people are significantly more productive, which means that the bottom line gets a boost, too.

If you’re one of the growing number who want to make our project worlds more ‘people-intelligent’, why not try out some of the following suggestions?

1 - Ask a trusted observer to help you ‘see’ what you’re doing, not what you think you’re doing

They’re not the same thing. The leaders I work with are committed to achieving success. They do what they do because they honestly believe it’s right. The problem is that accurate self-perception is rare. How many times have you heard a manager say, “I have an open-door policy. I encourage people to tell me the facts”, only to see the next poor soul who believes it being chewed up and spat out? While the intention is good, the outcome is poor and frustrating for all involved.

I am increasingly suggesting to leaders that I observe them as they carry out their work. The disparity between their perception and reality provides a great number of opportunities. How about pairing up with a colleague and doing this for each other?

2 - Say thanks more often

Financial rewards aren’t all that rewarding. Specific and immediate thanks can mean so much more. Why? Because people need good relationships to flourish and thanks means that you have been seen and appreciated. And if you are thanked, don’t shrug it off. It devalues both the gift and the courage of the giver.

3 - Don’t assume what is important to you is equally important to everyone else. It isn’t!

Listen and you will soon find out what is important. Aligning interests is the best way to create motivation in others. For anyone particularly interested in this, try investigating Nudge theory, which argues that positive reinforcement can influence decision-making at least as effectively – if not more so – than direct enforcement.

One of the best ways to encourage other people to commit to doing something is to involve them. Get them to shape the details, create the plan and propose the method or deliverables. Autonomy plus ownership encourages engagement.

4 - Communicate by listening more than telling

Interestingly, most of us ‘get’ the need to communicate. Unfortunately, it’s too easy for us to optimistically believe that successfully completed presentation is communication. It isn’t. It’s just telling. Since people’s attention span is directly proportional to how interesting the presentation is, the challenge is obvious.

As an alternative, why not say less and ask more? Ask what they’ve understood? Get them to imagine how they could incorporate it into their world. Find out what might stop them. What are their fears? We’ve been given one mouth and two ears and my advice to everyone is to use them in that proportion.

5 - Learn how to make better decisions

Watch a team undertake a SWOT analysis. They bias the input to the outcome they want. Think you can overcome that with brainstorming? You can’t. Groupthink stifles creativity. With the best of intentions, I used to use both techniques. Now that I’ve learned more, I don’t.

Psychologist Daniel Kahneman has highlighted our “pervasive optimistic bias”, which means that we see “the goals we adopt as more achievable than they are likely to be”. We are highly biased when it comes to risk and our own abilities. How come so many dread flights, but happily get into the much more dangerous car?

The implications for projects are too many for this article. But I wonder if this tendency could explain what appears to be the project world’s insistent search for the next ‘silver bullet’ project process?

Self-awareness of your own biases will significantly enhance your own decision making, and give you the opportunity to help others with theirs. So make self-awareness your first and ongoing goal.

I truly hope that more of us can join together to create more ‘people-intelligent’ leaders, teams and organisations. Because that’s how we’ll make our projects both more fun and more successful. Oh, and before I get an avalanche of emails about the importance of processes, I do agree that they’re vital. I just think the ‘people-intelligent’ teams that drive the processes matter as much as the processes themselves. It’s time to equal up the balance.


Posted by Brenda Hales on 5th Aug 2015

About the Author
Brenda Hales, Director, Hales Consulting. Specialises in working with leaders to polish their performance; and with teams and organisations to engage people. She has extensive project and commercial experience, a deep interest in the people sciences, an MSc in Gestalt psychotherapy and an APECS Executive Coach accreditation.

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