The Angry Gorilla: Emotion is your choice.




Photo from Wikipedia



“I CAN’T BELIEVE THE NERVE!” I stormed into my office, barely catching the door before I slammed it for all it was worth. I compensated for the averted door slam by tossing my notebook across the room. Stalking after it, I noticed Hogarth reclining in the corner of the room. I didn’t even look at him, I was in no mood to have my head shrunk by a pseudo- imaginary gorilla who’d watched one too many Dr. Phil episodes. “Don’t even start, I am NOT in the mood.”
I threw myself into my chair, threatening to topple it over in the process. I glared sightlessly at my computer monitor. I was too agitated to even scan my recent emails. It was all I could do to not grab the monitor and throttle it like I wanted to throttle Bob’s snake-like next. Finally I calmed down enough to scoop my battered notebook up off the floor.



Photo by astrogrl – Flickr.com



Sitting back up I noticed Hogarth again. He was sitting in the corner of the room, not speaking or moving. He just sat there calmly looking in my direction. I snorted and tossed my book on the desk. “Not gonna work, hairball. You can’t fix this with a few pithy sayings and making me twist my mind around to look at itself from behind.”
Hogarth just sat there, unblinking. His placid face betrayed no hint of emotion.
I grunted and turned to my computer. I might as well get some work done.
Five minutes later I threw up my hands in surrender. Turing to the still silent Hogarth I said, “Fine, you win!”
Hogarth didn’t respond. He just laid his hands in thighs and cocked his head to the side.
“The team just demoed the product to the CEO. He was really impressed with how the workflow was improved. He said ‘Best damn idea I’ve seen in a long time.”
Hogarth just blinked. Still I could hear the question. “So? So Bob took credit for it. Complete and total credit for it. The lily livered slime bag had the nerve to take credit for the work!”
Hogarth just looked at me.
I sighed. “Bob’s idea for the workflow was a miserable failure. The team tossed it out and came up with something from complete scratch. Sure it fit Bob’s stated user requirements, but it had nothing to do with Bob’s actual ideas.” I smacked the table in frustration. “And there wasn’t anything I could do about it. If I’d told the real truth, it would have looked like I was tossing Bob under the bus. He may be a spineless product manager, but I’m not going to lower myself to that level.”
I clenched my fists, fighting back the desire to pound on the desk. “Oh he makes me so MAD!”
And then Hogarth finally spoke. “No, he did not make you mad.”
“What?” I stared at my gorilla with blatant incredulity. “I’m furious. I damn near took the door off its hinges and I think I dented my desk. How the hell can you say that Bob didn’t make me angry?”
Hogarth spoke, his voice calm and Yoda-like. “Anger you, Bob did not. Chose to be angry yourself, did you.”
I shook my head, not sure I’d heard Hogarth clearly. “Hogarth, he just took credit for the entire project and you want to tell me he didn’t make me mad?”
My gorilla nodded his head. “Yes.”
“Have you been sniffing the white out? That’s the most ludicrous thing I’ve heard you say all month. How on earth is it he didn’t make me mad?”
Hogarth folded his hands in his lap and leaned back against the wall. Speaking from under half-lidded eyes he said, “between stimulus and response, lies the ability to choose.”
“Really, Hogarth, you need to stop buying self-help books at Kmart. What quack shrink said that?”
Hogarth opened one eye and looked my way. “Stephen Covey.”
“Oh…”
Anyone who’s ever said Project Management isn’t a stressful job probably defines fun as “poking hot needles in their eyes.” Project Management can be high stress, high conflict and highly political. Mark Horstman, Manager-Tool.com, points out “What junior employees call politics, executives call doing business.”
So the stress and conflict are part and parcel to the job we do. What we do about it though, is completely in our control.
Stephen Covey says in 7 habits of a Highly Effective Person “Between stimulus and response, lies the ability to choose.” It is the kind of phrase you might expect from a Zen master or Yoda and in his own ways, Covey is the Jedi teacher of business. It’s an incredibly simple concept and as powerful as it is simple.
We project managers are bombarded from a hundred different angles every single day. We face reluctant teams, self centered sales reps, political managers, oblivious executives and more. At least that’s what we tend to describe them as when in reality we are dealing with teams that are unsure of next steps or feeling insecure with their positions, sales reps that are paid to make sales and if they don’t they don’t get paid, managers who recognize business is a series of give and takes and executives that must make a hundred decisions a day to keep the company moving and you probably are only aware of three of those.
Human nature is pretty quick to assign emotional content to everything. Being an effective project manager means focusing not on the emotions but on the behaviors. Behaviors are the words one says, how one says them (tone and inflection), facial expressions, body language, and work product (timeliness, quality, documents, delivery, etc.).
  • Bob’s slouching in the meeting, that must mean he doesn’t care about the project. No, what it means is Bob got two hours of sleep last night because his son fell off the porch and broke his arm. Bob was in the ER until two in the morning.
  • Mary just wrinkled her nose. She thinks your idea is horrible. No, Bob smells like a sweat sock and Mary has a really sensitive nose.
  • Alexi just called the project “bad and bloated,” he’s being insulting and condescending. No, Alexi is a native Russian speaker and he watched an urban comedy last night. He meant to say “phat” not “bloated” and was trying to say he thought the project was “cool.”
Once we recognize that we should be looking at people’s behaviors, without assigning emotional bias, then we have to start working on our own response. Maybe Bob did intend to completely undercut you and hog all the glory. Is slamming your door and breaking your desk going to make things better? Will your boss blame Bob for having to shell out money for a new computer monitor? More importantly, will anyone want to work with you? Bob may have been underhanded and greedy, but you are the one and only person responsible for your response to his actions.
Being a great project manager means taking the high road, a lot.
Just remember “The man poking you in the chest does not make you angry. You make yourself angry.”
Joel Bancroft-Connors
The Gorilla Project Manager
Want me to talk to your gorilla? Send me an email
You can follow me on twitter, @JBC_PMP

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