TOTW: Flexing Your Degrees of Freedom

… to Assure Success

Engineering Teams are dynamic systems instead of static systems.  People on your teams will never react exactly the same way two times in a row.  That is why you are charged with herding these cats and getting them to work toward a single direction.

In 15 + years of managing various types of projects and as many, coaching Technical Project managers, I have noticed that Engineers and Tech people such as ourselves tend to expect systems to statically repeat the same process over time.  That is why managing human processes can be so frustrating  — people don’t work that way.

The secret to success is to realize that as a leader, you must take a meta-perspective and exhibit a greater range of flexible behavior than those exhibited by your team members.  The part of the system that has the most meta-flexibility, that is the ability to adjust and constrain whatever happens, will always determine the quality of the results you get.

To level-up your flexibility, consider each encounter from not only your position, but also by stepping into the perspective of the other stakeholders and team members.  Imagine what it must be like to be in their shoes, with their experience, and their values.  If you can make this a consistent habit of your perception you will automatically begin to generate an Emotional Intelligence that will set you apart from other managers and project leaders.

To really become great, you have to cultivate a desire to learn these kinds of skills, and you have to practice them until they become natural habits of your thinking.  Learn to switch back and forth between being wholly in your own perspective and wholly in each other team member’s perspective.  Step into their perspective and ask yourself, “What do I know from here, that I didn’t know from my own perspective?”  Then listen carefully to your intuitive mind.  You will be surprised how different other people’s perspectives really are.

Three 3 perceptual positions diagram

Finally, after checking out each person’s perspective including your own, step outside of the whole team circle as if you were a fly on the wall and imagine the interactions you’ve just been through as if you were seeing yourself and your team from a third party position.  This overview is called taking a meta-perspective, and it provides a way to watch the interaction and the dynamics between team member’s communications.  From here you can easily see and hear those little differences of communication that cause mistaken ideas, hard feelings, and avoidable confusion.

Mistakes are always avoidable if you learn to watch and listen carefully.  Teams work together better when failures are treated as opportunities to learn and refine the team process.  If you will become an expert in flexible facilitation and in understanding every process from the three different perspectives — yours, theirs, and objective overview, your projects will come in closer to budget and schedule and the quality of your team deliverables will become impressive.


We get together weekly to practice these sorts of skills exercises.  If you recognize you are interested in getting good and mastering this skill set or in learning more people skill tips that will help you work better with people and become the sort of person they naturally like to follow, then we can help.  Contact us at 512-507-5464 to get a catalog of our courses, workshops, trainings, mentoring and coaching.


TOTW: Resonance With People

…To Get Things Done

Hey if you are an engineer, scientist, or technical professional you probably are like me.  You spent a lot of time in math and science classes at University and didn’t really have time to focus on people skills, aside from maybe going to an occasional party or two.  But in every technical careers there comes a time when we can no longer progress without strong skills for working with others.  And by the time we reach the leadership role we are expected to be competent even when other people don’t always make it easy for us.

Today you are in luck, you are going to learn how to get more cooperation from people.

Coupled Occillators

Remember in physics how two circuits or two pendulums can be coupled together to affect one another?   Well in many basic ways people are like those coupled oscillators. We can either transfer energy between one another in an efficient and intended manner or we can dampen one another, stopping much of anything from happening. Which you choose to do depends upon how you set up the configuration of the system and what your intentions are.

As you will remember the length of coupled pendula determines the rate at which they will oscillate. If two pendula are of similar lengths they will tend to transfer energy easily from one to another. In an analogous way, the more similar two people are, the more easily they get along with one another. In a physical or electrical system we call this resonance. Between people it is usually called Rapport.

As weird as the may sound, if you match a person’s posture, rhythms, voice tone and volume, you will make it easier for them to understand and appreciate you.  It is like you are reducing the amount of resistance or friction in the system.  If you mis-match characteristics you will increase the resistance and dampen the results.  Mismatch them enough and you may even begin to generate heat (anger).  Okay, perhaps that is taking the metaphor a bit far.

Oddly enough though, this analogy works quite well in dealing with people.  Try putting your body into the same posture as the persons you are talking to.  Match their keywords or key interests.  You will be surprised at how friendly to your ideas they become.  But the next time someone you don’t want to be friendly with tries to sidle up in a smarmy way, try mismatching their pace, rhythms, and topics.  It may create a moment of awkwardness but it will definitely dampen their enthusiasm and make it more difficult for them to keep on trying to sell you on their program without consideration for yours.

Where this becomes more valuable is when you practice it enough that you can use it in difficult situations at work or in home life.  Most communication problems and interpersonal problems go back to some form of being out of Rapport.  If you watch the people who inherently have great people skills they unconsciously know how to do match the people that are important to getting their tasks done.  And young lovers will often match each other automatically as part of that early stage of love.  Watch them in restaurants.  One will lean in and the other will follow suit.

This is the magic of these human coupled oscillating circuits, once you are in rapport for a few moments the other person will generally follow your lead if make a change.  That way you can start by matching a person for a little while then lead them to think about what you need them to consider and things will go a lot smoother than if you had just brusquely started off with your own rhythm.

To be creative you may want to follow the beat of a different drummer as Henry David Thoreau said, but if you need to get things done through other people, it can be very useful to begin by picking up on their rhythm for a little while before introducing some new beats of your own that they will easily want to follow.

If you are interested in practice exercises to master this skill set or in learning more people skill tips that will help you work better with people and become the sort of person they naturally like to follow, then we can help.  Contact us at 512-507-5464 to get a catalog of our courses, workshops, trainings, and coaching.

Thinking About Thinking About Engineering Leadership

Philosophy seems very abstract, but in Greek it simply means “love of wisdom.”  To be a wise practitioner of engineering or technical professional you have to think pragmatically about what will and will not work well.  To be a wise leader  of Engineers or Scientists you need to think pragmatically about what will or will not work well in leading people.  So learning to think about thinking is one of the keys to being a wise leader of Engineers or Scientists.

That is one thing we will be doing in this Useful Ideas series.

TOTW: Dealing with People’s Negative Emotions

Tip of the Week – How to Calm the Raging Beasts

When a co-worker is getting emotional it is usually because they don’t feel like they are being respected.  This may not be true, but if you carry on without helping them regain composure first you are asking for confusion, miscommunication, and problems down the road.  Start by matching their emotional volume and tone of voice while acknowledging what you already can guess about their feelings.  Then ask whether you understand their immediate needs.

Sounds like you are really angry right now, Joe!  Is that because you have a need to make sure we do this with quality?

You will probably get one or the other of their feelings or needs wrong.  But that is okay because they will correct you.

Damned right I am mad; I feel like we never really take care of our customers around here.  After all they are the ones I have to deal with all day everyday, and they pay our bills.”

As soon as they tell you what they are feeling or what their need is, feed it back to them again.

So you are mad because we don’t take care of our customers the way that you believe would be right — is that it?

Notice the “tag question” at the end that re-verifies that you really did understand them.  This helps to re-establish simpatico between you, doesn’t it?  Good rapport is based upon feeling like you are similar to the person you are interacting with.  It is that feeling that we understand each other and basically come from similar values, so I believe I can trust you.

When people feel heard, they feel better and think more highly of you because they know you listened.  They are more likely to cooperate or at least go along with you.  You can improve this by trying to understand where they are coming from as well as by matching their values, their way of talking, and the rhythms and postures of their body.  Experiment with this and see if it doesn’t get really great results.


If you, or people you work with, have problems with people, Technical Leadership Skills can help!  Give us a call at 512-507-5464.  We are glad to answer any questions.  While you are on the line, ask for our free report on The Foundations of People Skills.  Since the main reason people lose their jobs is over people issues, the career you save may be your own.  Give us a ring.