Skip to content

5 ways to become more people intelligent

Added to your CPD log

View or edit this activity in your CPD log.

Go to My CPD
Only APM members have access to CPD features Become a member Already added to CPD log

View or edit this activity in your CPD log.

Go to My CPD
Added to your Saved Content Go to my Saved Content

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.


Join the conversation!

Log in to post a comment, or create an account if you don't have one already.

  1. Martin Baughurst
    Martin Baughurst 12 August 2015, 12:08 PM

    BrendaThought provoking article and interesting article.I resonate with the concept of ‘self-awareness of your own biases’, this is not only on an individual’s level, but within teams. Trying to gauge where the team have put themselves, realigning and working with the main influencers within that team is key to working out how to lead a project to the endMartin

  2. Stephen Laity
    Stephen Laity 07 August 2015, 10:55 AM

    Ways to be more people-intelligentThese ideas started to develop with the thinking of the Buddha 2500 years ago. They are reflected in my organisation’s drive to improve its culture improving innovation, staff retention and the implementation of strategy.

  3. Patrick Weaver
    Patrick Weaver 07 August 2015, 01:10 AM

    Good question Hardyal!As a starting point you need to understand the type of issue you have to make a decision about, if a decision is actually required, the options range from problems and puzzles to dilemmas and ‘wicked problems’.  You then need to decide on the best decision making strategy group or individual, and then set about making the decision.  This is discussed in some depth in our White Paper solving is only one sub-set but does lend itself to a more process oriented approach, see: every decision is made by a person and involves people so you cannot ignore the rest of the original post.Hope these WPs help,Pat

  4. Hardyal Kalsi
    Hardyal Kalsi 06 August 2015, 07:52 PM

    Hi Brenda,Thank you for posting the above; very interesting & useful.Could you please expand on point5: making decisions?I accept the issues you mention with SWOT/ brainstorming/ group think, however, the blog does not describe what is recommended. At least I did not spot it if it does.Thanks,Hardyal.

  5. Brenda Hales
    Brenda Hales 07 August 2015, 10:22 AM

    Hi HardyalThanks for your feedback. And your question. It’s such an important one. Because of course we need to make consistently good decisions if our projects are to thrive.The real challenge to making good decisions starts with us acknowledging a basic misconception – that people are capable of making purely rational decisions.Human beings naturally make decisions based on their emotions. And fear is by far the biggest and most easily triggered human feeling. Since projects are almost always challenging on several fronts at once – fear stimulation is inevitable.Unfortunately we “think” we make rational decisions.The reality is the vast majority of us make emotional decisions and then post justify them with rationalizations. We only remember this second part of the process. But if your stomach feels uncomfy over your next decision – try listening to it!As an example. I was working with a project team recently. Indicators showed they were going to miss the first delivery date. It was actually pretty obvious. They are afraid of the boss. So instead of facing the truth - they convinced themselves their new delivery plan would work! Until I asked each one of them to write anonymously on a single piece of paper the first drop date saying  “if you knew your boss would be totally on your side what date could you honestly commit to?” . A range of 4-7 months later than the plan resulted. Now we could look at a realistic date - work out how to manage the nasty fall-out AND raise the teams awareness of how they had nearly deceived themselves.We need to become more “people intelligent” to make good decisions. As a leader you can help others by encouraging everyone involved to take this humanistic – but essential step to great decisions.I’m imagining your question comes from facing these challenges yourself. I’d be delighted to chat to you about whatever you and your team is facing.Thanks for the question – I really hope my thoughts encourage you to enjoy finding out more about yourself and others as the way of implementing the solution.All the bestBrenda