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Calling all project managers, it’s time to talk

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Two Women Chatting 1

Sounds simple, right? But is it? 

The concept of making time to talk is one we have likely all said we could and would do at various times yet in reality, it can be hard to make that time. It’s also easy in our busy work and personal lives to overlook the importance of giving this time to those who need or ask for it. This can be especially true when mid-way through a busy project hurtling towards a key delivery milestone.

Slow down

There are periods in projects where we are each incredibly busy and so it can be difficult to find the time and, often, even more difficult to spot which of our colleagues would benefit from our time. I have found myself in that situation; my mind is whirling around like a never ending merry-go-round whilst I attempt to work out the answer to what feels like tens and tens of problems with pressures and milestones all over the place and…STOP. We have to ground ourselves to break the cycle (the NHS describes a simple technique here).

When I find myself whirling, I stop to get some perspective and give myself a chance to reorder and prioritise my thinking so that I give time to what’s important. Part of that will be what I need in that instant, for example, an opportunity to clear my head and bring myself back to the here and now. This can lead on to opportunities to tackle what’s really going on. That can include work pressures and is a good chance to think about those you work with: who else may be having ’a moment’ and would benefit from you checking in with them? Who may need some assurance about what they’re doing and perhaps ‘permission’ to step back themselves? Asking yourself these questions is the first step in successfully making time to talk to your project team.

Be open and welcoming

Of course, it’s not just about time; it’s about being present and taking a non-judgmental approach to actively listening to the person you’re talking with. That too can be hard because of all the things we each personally have going on in our own lives and work. The benefits of making time to talk far outweigh these difficulties, both to the person you are talking to as well as for you. The smallest of things can make the biggest of differences here; just pausing what you’re doing to acknowledge someone and demonstrating you care can be enormously impactful.

There’s an elephant in the room though. You’re prepared to make time for someone and know there are real benefits, but you don’t know what to say. Will you make things worse? Will you freeze? Will it be awkward? Or perhaps ‘mental health’ or ‘wellbeing’ are a little scary? If any of those things are true, you’re well qualified to join the rest of us. Lots and lots of people feel this way, it’s completely natural. Taking time to talk however, is not about knowing the answers, or understanding anything medical, it’s about demonstrating to someone that you’re willing to listen and to accept them for who they are; nothing more.

You may also be the person who would appreciate if someone could spare you a few minutes of their time and you might also be feeling some of the things above. You may wonder whether you’ll be judged, misunderstood or say something you later regret. It goes to show that whoever we are, until that ice is broken and we talk to each other, we’re all likely to feel a little trepidation. Once we overcome this, a normal natural conversation will often be the result. Stick at it, it’s worth it.

Make the time to talk by stopping, taking a break and looking around you. Remind yourself, your team and colleagues that it’s okay to: 

  • Not know everything
  • Ask for help
  • Take time to care for yourself and others
  • Speak up when feeling busy or stressed
  • Highlight issues to management
  • Prioritise
  • Not check email out of hours
  • Have a person and/or pet pop up during a video call
  • Have off days
  • Have days off

Overall, I appreciate how difficult it can feel to have discussions about topics such as mental health and wellbeing, especially if you don’t have direct or personal experience of it. The reality, in my experience, is that the discussions themselves are nowhere near as difficult as we build them up to be and in fact lead to really important and positive outcomes.

You can find further resources for you, your team and organisation on the mental health toolkit for project managers.

Image: fizkes/


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  1. David Harman
    David Harman 05 February 2021, 09:58 AM

    Great blog, Chris. It is very easy to get absorbed in the tasks and ignore or forget there are fellow humans getting them done. My wife was very good at reminding me that there were people present! However, sometimes the tasks are taking over because we haven't resourced the project well enough, or as I experienced under a framework contract, the projects were slowly increasing in number. It got to the point that I realised I was struggling to keep everything in order and becoming intolerant of 'interruptions' by project staff. After a short period of internal reflection, I realised I needed assistance managing the increase in projects and reached out to the project director for help. He quickly acknowledged my need and appointed an extremely competent assistant. My world changed! I was back 'in control' with time for project staff.