How you say it is just as important

How you say it is just as important as what you say – 3 strategies

The language you use as a project manager when you are leading a team, making decisions, and drawing out ideas, is just as critical as the topic itself. This is never as important as when there is a problem or challenge that needs resolution and some of the ideas brought forward are a little “out there”.  In the end you need a result that is practical and is going to work, therefore you need to encourage lots of creativity and idea risk-taking but be careful about throwing a damper on the mood by awkwardly rejecting those that don’t easily seem to fit.

The challenge is fielding “out there” subjects, corralling that enthusiasm, and redirecting the conversation; all while ensuring that comments and ideas are being respected.  You need to be sincere.  This cannot be faked.  In the end, if you do keep it open and people feel secure in exploring ideas, that self-maximizing miracle of the human brain to make a correlation between completely random ideas will bring you what you need. 

So how do you keep it open?  What follows are three strategies: restating, questioning, and parking. 

Restating is a method of repeating an idea raised or a phrase which has been stated, and redirecting it in a direction that keeps the conversation on track.  So you can first clarify, then restate to redirect the comment. For example: “So If I understand what you mean …. when you say (repeat what they said), this is referring to (add the clarification with words that are appropriate or in context of the project), which is good because what we are looking for at this point here is ….(re-directing back to what the project is looking for)”. You can’t use “however” or “but” in the transition because that negates the idea. Use “and” as that is inclusive and make sure that your re-direction is strongly worded.    

Questioning is a process of asking greater details to get at a deeper level of idea than what is represented by the initial statement.  People’s language patterns and meanings are so different from person to person.  An examination of the definitions of words in a stated phrase will help to arrive at the real point being made.  For example when they first make a statement ask, “and what does that mean?”, and when they answer, ask again, “and which then points to?”, or some kind of different phrasing.  You are drilling down.  Often the first statement they make is awkward and several levels of questioning down are required before the true complex pattern they are seeing is revealed.

Parking is a method of moving ideas that are raised to “parking lot”, which is another whiteboard space or poster board somewhere in the room other than the central location.  You make the statement “Great suggestion, since the previous point raised was related to x and this is more in the direction of y, let’s put that in the parking lot and revisit it later.  I don’t want to lose that thought, but would like to come back to it.   Are you OK with that? (speaking to the person who brought it up)”.  What you will find is that often by the end of the meeting the items in the parking lot or their context have already been covered and are now unnecessary.

The language you use as a project manager when you are leading a team and making decisions and drawing out ideas, is just as critical as the topic itself.  There are a number of different strategies you can use to ensure you keep a flow of ideas without discouraging creative thinking.  Three strategies include: restating, questioning, and parking.