Friday, March 8, 2013

The Social Life of a Project Manager

This article is about drawing the line between friends and co-workers. But why do you need this line?, one can ask. Well, you have to know where the line is if you want a healthy workplace where everyone feels respected. And this is not always easy to do: on one hand the line isn't always crystal clear and on the other hand you don't want to hurt one's feelings by making it clear she/he is no friend of yours, right? A few guidelines follow on this topic, I hope you find them useful.

Who is a friend of yours?

Knowing who is a friend of yours and who's just a co-worker is the first thing to do. And it arises several problems, being the first that it depends on your culture. When a teenager I learned that a friend in Portugal and in the United States are basically different. A friend in Portugal is someone who you feel comfortable depending upon - it's almost like family and usually you just have a few. In the United States you're basically friends with anyone who you don't dislike for some reason - your friends do not feel responsible for you in any way and you usually have loads of them.
So take your time to "evaluate" the people that you work with and put them under one of these categories: friend and co-worker. And know that it's perfectly alright if I consider you a friend and you consider me a co-worker, in particular if we are from different cultures.
Actually technology can help you with this: you can build lists (like Friends and CoWorkers) in basically any social tool like Facebook. Then you just have to put the people who you're "friends with" (using Facebook's terminology) and put them under the proper list.

You don't have to be friends with everyone you work with

Now things get trickier. Some people can only work with someone if they like them. These people usually  and they really enjoy pleasing others. I'm not saying this is wrong, but the fact is that in the long run you'll have to work with people that you actually don't like for some reason. So if you find yourself in this dilemma (you only enjoy working with people you like and you're forced to work with people you dislike) you have 2 options: be miserable at work or adapt yourself to this reality. By far, I rather adapt.

But you have to connect with everyone

Here's a little treat for you. The following video shows some images from last Tuesday's game between Manchester United and Real Madrid. If you move to about 2 min 20 sec of the video, guess what you'll see?

Let me set the scenario for you just in case football (or soccer, depending where you're from) is not all that present in your life.. Cristiano Ronaldo, the player scoring that goal around 2:20, was Manchester United player a few years back. And the fans loved him. Before the game started he got the entire stadium calling out his name. The poor guy almost cried. And then he scored a goal for Real Madrid. Against Man United. What did he do? He apologized! That's right, he didn't celebrate, he didn't shush anyone or anything... he apologized!
Making the connection to this friends / co-workers thing, I can assure you that he is not friends with all the Man United fans that where in the stadium. He may even hate a few of them. But Cristiano Ronaldo really, really connects with the fans. He showed extreme consideration by apologizing. And that's why the fans love him. And they show it: not many players of whatever sport get a standing ovation by the opposite team's fans at the opposition team's stadium...

And some may even get married!

And it's OK to have friends that you happen to work with. But friendship is not the only strong connection you can get in the workplace. Some end up dating and it even getting married!

Don't use "secret handshakes"

What you have to be careful about is not to let anyone feel left out. It's a really bad idea to set the details for Saturday's dinner party in front of someone who wasn't invited. If that ever happened to you, you know what I mean...
The expression "secret handshakes" is used here to represent anything where someone can feel left out: irony, for instance, is perfect for this. I love it but I now don't use it at all with people who really don't know me (like it or not, irony demands knowing a bit about the person who's using it). The same goes to private jokes, to things shared in the past and so on.


Although everything in this article is about common sense, the fact is that one must be alert to the fact in order to deal with it. And this is true in any work group, not only to Project Management teams. So this is relevant for starters; it's easy to deal with (once you're aware and you want to) because it all comes down to common sense; and yes, you'll see a difference for better in your workplace!

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