Last week, I delivered my presentation on “Communication Tips for Project Managers” for the San Diego chapter of PMI. It was the most fun I’ve ever had giving any such presentation. The people who organized the event and handled all the technical aspects of the Zoom session not only did an excellent job in that respect, they chimed in with questions and comments that put me and everyone else at ease. This encouraged other attendees to contribute as well. It was as if some people were in my living room having a conversation.
One of the things we discussed was how much time people need to think.
The Micro Version
On a short-term basis, the amount of time a person typically needs to think before answering a question is between 10 and 20 seconds. The problem is, those seconds seem much longer to the person who asked the question than they do to the people thinking about how to answer.
I had asked the attendees some questions in an earlier part of the presentation before I broached this topic. I then asked them if they thought I had waited too long for them to answer the earlier questions. They did not. Then I asked them to cut off in their heads in silence–” one Mississippi, two Mississippi…” up to 15 seconds. That seemed like an awkwardly long wait to them. It certainly is for me. I have to make myself count in my head like that when I’ve asked a question or solicited feedback in a class.
Bear that in mind if you’re in a meeting, even if you’re not the leader, and you ask a question. The 10-12 sec. wait is easier when you’re speaking to an individual one on one because you can tell by their facial expression and body language when they’re thinking. Even so, it still pays to wait long enough for them to fully think through their ideas. Give them time, and you’ll find you get better answers.
On the other side of the coin, take enough time to think through your own answers to other peoples’ questions. Don’t allow yourself to feel pressured into speaking before you feel confident about what you want to say. If the other person seems impatient, or even if you just want to ease that silence that feels awkward to them, simply say something like, “Let me think about that for a moment.”
The Macro Version
I also spoke about the fact that people of different temperaments have different types of intelligence, and the most effective groups include them all. People with tactical intelligence are quick thinkers. They are the ones who can come up with a solution when the best laid plans goes awry due to something no one could have predicted. But depending on which authority you read, tactical thinkers represent only about 25% – 42% of the general population.
That means that 75% – 58% need more thinking time to give you the benefits of their particular types of intelligence:
- Strategic – the ability to see the big picture, make good long range plans, think logically
- Logistic – make sure that the right people and the right things are in the right places at the right times; preserve and care for assets of all types
- Diplomatic – these people are naturals at the type of communication skills I teach
Even the quick thinking strategic folks may come up with improved versions of their ideas after a night’s sleep.
To get the best from everyone, take breaks before attempting to finalize an agreement or a plan for some type of event or project. “Many of us will have additional ideas if we take a break and sleep on things. Let’s adjourn for now and reconvene at 10 AM tomorrow.”
These were only a few of the simple communication tips I shared.
What’s Food Got to Do with It?
I closed by comparing the complete consensus building system I teach with a good meal. The few, simple tips I had time to cover in a short presentation are like a hard boiled egg garnish. Very easy to learn to make on your own. They don’t require much instruction or practice. Yet, they can make an already-good meal extra special.
More advanced communication skills need more hands on instruction and practice – like vegetables. You could just throw them in a pot of water and boil them. You’d get something edible that gives you carbs and vitamins. But a proper cooking lesson could show you how to separate the tender part of the asparagus from the tough part that you might save and use in soup, how to steam them or cook them in a very small amount of water, then, just lightly glaze with butter. A cooking lesson could show you how to choose the right type of potatoes, cook them to just the right consistency, with peeled garlic, mash them with half & half, rather than just milk
For the meat and gravy of the system, however, the way we actually begin with a disagreement and build a meeting of the minds, there’s no substitute for hands-on practice in pretend situations, with a partner, where you have a trainer to debrief you and help you learn from the exercises. It’s just like you need practice to cook a filet mignon just right and make a really good gravy for it.
The skills whereby we figure out where people are really coming from and create solutions that eliminate, or minimize, the need for compromise, the ones that require coaching and substantial practice, work the real magic of the system.
Try It for Yourself
You can get hands-on practice, coaching and debriefing one-on-one with me, either in person or virtually, similar to what you would get in a group training. One-on-one coaching can be tailored to your individual needs. Please email me to set up a free phone conference for exploring your possibilities.
Great article Margaret! I enjoyed thinking about thinking! I have a friend who has always told me I think too much. I would rather put a bit more time into thinking, possibly “too much”, than not enough. I suppose “too much, or not enough” is relevant to our own level of patience many times.