I’ve said many times in previous posts that the key to really developing good relationships and bonds with people is to make sure you understand them. It’s easier said than done because let’s face it, understanding people is difficult. Every single person has a different personality. Every single person has a different agenda. Every single person reacts differently to what you have to say and what you do.
The reason that this topic popped into my head this morning is because I received an invitation to a wedding this morning from one of my previous co-workers in India. I know that weddings in India are very big celebrations and many of them usually have thousands of guests. They actually make my wedding and the ones here in the US seem like very tame celebrations! This wasn’t the first invitation I’ve gotten from one of my Indian friends. It made me realize though that it took a lot of effort to get to this point.
When I first got out of my leadership rotational program at Nielsen, I still had just raw talent. I had the skills and techniques down that would get me to be successful but I didn’t really have the exposure to the global level yet that would help me really develop my communication skills. I will say that first 6 months or so after the program I struggled. I got more responsibilities and it really centered around getting our program delivered. It also involved talking a lot with our team in India and I just did not understand how they worked.
At many points during that time I thought to myself, man these guys just don’t know how to work. They don’t really communicate and give you what’s really going on. They tend to promise something and then not deliver. They aren’t being very responsive to me at all. It’s the most frustrating thing to experience as a project manager because the struggle is real and the pressure you feel from your boss is real. I struggled day in and day out because even the accents were really tough to decipher sometimes.
But slowly I started to realize that instead of being in the mindset of asking why they do the things they do, I started to focus on how they do the things that they do. There’s just a totally different mindset in their culture in how they approach their work. I find that a lot of the team does better if you give them more specific instructions on what to do. It’s not that they are dumb or stupid in any regard. In fact I’m sure that many of them are quite smarter than I am and their technical expertise just amazes me. They do require a more concrete plan though in order to achieve an objective. It actually helps me too in order to make sure I am covering everything.
I started to work more of their hours to be more available for problems that might arise. This one was a tough one because it meant waking up at all odd hours of the day. There was a period of time when I actually was up at 2am on Fridays and just worked into the early afternoon just so I can shift my schedule around for deployments. I think showing that dedication for working helped people to see that I genuinely cared and I was there to help them out. I wasn’t just that person that worked only US hours and called the shots from there.
I also got the chance to visit Chennai about four times in the span of two years. It was so much easier to connect with people when you saw them face to face. It was also another chance to show just how much you were invested in the project as well because I tended to pull 90+ hour weeks while over there.
I think the final way that I really started to understand the team is by getting to know them. By really caring about what they are saying and getting to know how their families are and what they dreamed of doing, I think it really helped to develop the relationship. Even sharing my experiences helps in that regard as well.
So circling back to the invitation I got today, I think it really is a sign of what you can really accomplish even if you don’t understand a person at first. Make a real effort to know who they are, what they want to do and how they think of life. This isn’t just applicable to your coworkers but to everyone else you know. Let down your prejudices and barriers and start to really feel what the other person feels. Try to listen and hear their struggles and understand how that may affect their life decisions. It’s hard enough going through this world with your own struggles. We don’t need to add communication problems with other people on that list!