As a DPM you are constantly faced with having to navigate around the big three; time, budget and quality. There are times when projects do not go according to plan and failure to meet the big three or even two of them will inevitably happen at some point in your career. You may start to lose faith in your abilities, see all your problems as insoluble. Unable to move forward, you are paralysed by your automatic go-to responses which can interpret events negatively; you over-personalise them, catastrophise them and you resign yourself to the problem or issue being unresolvable. You give up and check out.
Overwhelmed, now unable to function within your role and unable to lead a team you now need to find a way to get back on track.
Here are my 5 top tips for strengthening your ability to gain some healthy optimism…
Bad things are going to happen and you cannot let previous failures be dragged into the next project. You cannot adopt a ‘we’re doomed’ mindset from one project to the next. You need to start seeing problems as exceptional and not pervasive. Genuine optimists stay grounded in the real world – if there is a problem, they face it and seek solutions. Optimism is working on what is known and not what is unknown. Where there are unknowns it’s about focusing on how these will prove to be positive rather than negative. Accurately assess a situation by asking questions, challenging assumptions, differentiating between facts and feelings and gain a perspective.
When a project does go wrong it can often feel like a grieving process. More often than not, you won’t be able to afford the time needed to grieve appropriately, you have to be able to move on quickly, efficiently and where possible, unharmed. Kubler Ross states the grief cycle consists of 5 stages – denial, anger, depression, bargaining, and acceptance. I recommend you skip denial and work to gain an understanding of your responsibility within the project failure and what you would do differently in the future. Let go of the associated anger or use a healthy outlet, for example, meditation or physical exercise. Move through the associated anxiety of failure and take solace in knowing you have had previous successes and will create further success in the future. Only bargain if it means you’ll learn, not if it leads you to spend more time, which you don’t have, on over-analysing the project with colleagues in an attempt to justify the failure, thus wasting precious energy on something that has already happened. Your aim is to accelerate your progress towards acceptance, explore options for future projects, review lessons learned and ultimately move on.
I wish I’d known how to distinguish radiators from drains ‘radiators/drains’ – Oprah Winfrey
Oprah Winfrey explains that radiators are people who give out warmth, honesty, positivity, energy, and enthusiasm which other people respond to, whereas drains are people who are negative, downbeat, suck the energy out of others and don’t like themselves. Optimism in the workplace can help with exploration of possibility, innovation, and collaboration – feed into being more open to possibilities. Generally, if you are perceived as being more optimistic you are more likely to get on well with your colleagues. Build a reputation as a solutions person, and someone others want to be around. Next time you’re interacting with your team ask yourself, am I a radiator or a drain?
Staying upbeat in the face of rejection, disappointment or simply day-to-day pressures means being resilient and having the ability to deal with C.R.A.P. In his TED Talk, Richard St John, talks about success and cites you have to be able to deal with C.R.A.P to be truly successful. The acronym stands for criticism, rejection, a***holes, and pressure. The way to handle C.R.A.P is to accept you will face these elements and put strategies in place to deal with them. Having these strategies at the core of what you do and how you do it will help you maintain an optimistic approach.
Martin Seligman says the key to optimism and pessimism lies in our ‘explanatory styles’ – how we explain life events (good or bad) to ourselves. We all have an inner narrator who structures our lives; whether this voice has a natural inclination to be positive or negative impacts the world we live in and how we perceive it. Your personal interpretation of events can be consciously adjusted, even if (especially if) you are unable to change certain aspects of the situation. You should aim to not waste energy trying to change such situations, but control what you can within them. Focus on increasing your ability to acknowledge your own role within a situation, auditing your feelings and controlling your actions. Place less blame on external factors and focus more on choosing your response.
Optimists are good at evaluating a situation from different perspectives, they are able to size up the situation accurately and if there are problems, face them, seek solutions and take action. They continually have faith in their own abilities in order to adjust their response to suit the situation, implement solutions and move forward constructively. If you are seen as the solutions-person and you radiate a warm, honest and positive vibe, people will want to be around you, thus creating a better working relationship within the team. Optimism can be learned and this will help you function even if you are sad, stressed anxious or angry. Playing the hero in your own life can lead to personal growth and offers a real chance for improving any situation. Know that there is always something you can do and if you solve enough problems you will find yourself back on track.
Want to know more about the seven soft skills you need to get ahead as a DPM? As well as practical tips you can start to use straight away? Please visit the Digital Project Managers page 🙂