By Thomas Cutting
It was a rough game. During the week I spend my life as a mild mannered project manager, but on the weekends I turn into an AYSO Soccer Referee. Unfortunately this time there was trouble. The blue coach was the one that started pushing my buttons. It probably started right at the beginning when I informed him that his spectator’s dog had to leave the field. From then on he questioned everything and generally caused me grief. I ended up calling both coaches to the center of the field and loudly telling them to knock it off. It was my first such confrontational conversation as a ref.
Back in the “real world” of project management I had a similar situation. It was the week of implementation on a major project with an aggressive time line. We had completed testing and found there were pre-existing data issues requiring a work around that could cause a delay. During the go/no-go meeting the Sponsor appeared to be insinuating that we wouldn’t be in this mess if we had done our jobs right. Needless to say, the team was not happy and I had to confront her about it.
I don’t think I handled either situation well. Upon reflection I should have taken the following advice.
Plan ahead. If you are a project manager or even a referee you will eventually have conflicts. Decide how you are going to react in certain circumstances before they occur. It would even be helpful to role play with someone. There was a manager at one location I worked that yelled at project managers to the point of making some cry. Just for the record crying does little for a PM’s image. I decided that if he tried it with me I would calmly say, “I see that this has you quite upset. Perhaps it would be better if we rescheduled this meeting.” Then I would stand up and leave. I don’t know if I had the guts to do it, but I was ready. I should have had a plan for handling that coach, too.
Handle it immediately. Had I addressed the coach one-on-one the first or second time he hassled me I might have been able to put it to rest without any further issue. By not taking action it started to spread to the parents and then across the field to the other coach.
Think before you speak. After the go/no-go meeting I spoke with my team and realized they also felt trampled on by the Sponsor. Something had to be done so I trudged back to the meeting room. Rather heatedly I let her know we didn’t appreciate what she had said; how we felt that the scope of the project was complete; blah, blah, blah. It wasn’t my finest moment. Had I thought through what to say prior to confronting her things might have gone better. The wrong choice of words can leave lasting bad impressions.
Speak. After thinking it through you may rationalize yourself into not taking action. Don’t let the problem fester. By avoiding difficult conversations you build walls that get thicker over time and make it harder to deal with.
Confirm your feelings. After I was done spouting off to the Sponsor we started talking. It turned out she wasn’t attempting to put us down and she reiterated the good job we had done to that point. Had I started by confirming that my initial feelings were correct, the conversation would have been a bit more constructive.
Remain calm. When I called both coaches to the center of the field I started aggressively telling them that I was in charge. I nearly yelled, “Who is wearing the yellow shirt here!” Good old blue coach said, “Well, she is…and he is…and you are” pointing to the Assistant Refs and then to me. Things weren’t going well. I should have remained calm and allowed him to yell. It would have given me the moral high ground to regain control of the game. The whole field didn’t need to hear our conversation and it probably added to the problem.
Use humor. Humor is a wonderful creation. I’m glad God added it to life. With a quick, witty comment you can get people to step back from the situation and gain a different perspective. That may be all you need to stop a major incident.
Fortunately for me soccer games last less than two hours.
Thomas Cutting, PMP is the owner of Cutting’s Edge (http://www.cuttingsedge.com/) and is a speaker, writer, trainer and mentor. He offers nearly random Project Management insights from a very diverse background that covers entertainment, retail, insurance, banking, healthcare and automotive verticals. He delivers real world, practical lessons learned with a twist of humor. Thomas has spoken at PMI and PSQT Conferences and is a regular contributor to several Project Management sites. He has a blog at http://cuttingsedgepm.blogspot.com.