Ronald McProject Manager: The Danger of Assumption

If you have trouble picturing the person I’m describing in this post, refer to this picture. It’s pretty accurate.

“Did your doctor tell you to stop being a crazy person and stop working out so much?” My curly red-haired, rosy cheeked, makeup-caked project manager sneered. It was her attempt at a joke, but it was actually a veiled insult.

“No, you nightmarish happy-meal clown,” I thought. “He told me that there’s actually one type of hemorrhoid that’s more uncomfortable than you.”

“No,” I actually responded. “He told me I’m one of his healthiest patients.” She grimaced and walked away, clearly not getting the satisfaction she’d wanted.

Let me back up and set the stage. There was so much going on at this time in my life that it probably warrants a few posts (we’ll see). The main thing was that it was a time of incredible focus and incredible uncertainty.

Days earlier, the man who had hired me as Safety Manager on a multi-site project had been walked off site. There’s still a bit of mystery in that story (he’s never told me the full version), but that’s a tale for another time. In his stead, an “expert” had been brought in to temporarily reign in his rouge staff. I was one of those unfortunate souls.

Assuming makes an… well you know

Let’s call my surrogate PM Maureen. Not (necessarily) because that name has any similarity to her real one, but because it closely relates to one of the antagonists in the sage show Rent (God knows she wore enough makeup). She was one of those managers whose only claim to fame was that she had been a “manager” for a really, really, f^#$ing really long time. Her opinions (judgments really) were a direct reflection of that.

Without knowing the state of anything, Maureen came to our site with preconceived notions about everything. It was a tense few weeks. For me that period was compounded by the fact that I was on the downward slope of more than 20 weeks of an intense training and diet regimen leading to my first (and only) bodybuilding competition.

It’s a lifestyle that I still lend a whole lot of respect toward. For me, the result was less than optimal and I learned that it wasn’t enough of a passion of mine to continue. But, nonetheless, I was in my final weeks of prep at that point and was laser-focused.

Maureen just thought I was a crazy person.

People don’t like what they can’t understand

Maureen didn’t understand me. She wasn’t willing to about hear the struggles our team had been having with the client. Her outlook was singularly focused. The report she had been given said management (at the site) was a problem, and she was there to correct it. My “obsession” with working out only reinforced her position.

Of course, all of the ancillary factors that contributed to that time and place had an affect, but it was wrong of her to judge based on the reports of a few or just a list of assumptions in her head. Sure we had problems on that site, but preconceived notions and heavy-handedness solved none of them.

I’m purposely not giving you a lot of detail about what, when, or how in this case. And I’m doing it to make a point. Shading the story with my opinion would shade your belief about what was right or wrong in that scenario. Those two choices (right and wrong) are personal, but so often we rely on others to provide our opinions for us.

Look, Listen, and Feel…

Anyone who has taken an American Heart Association First Aid course has heard those words. Those are the first steps in assessing a victim in order to determine if CPR is an appropriate course of action. So often in business we rush in (figuratively) and start providing CPR when the victim is conscious and breathing. That’s what Maureen did.

The next time you’re presented with a problem in your organization, take a beat. Look around. Listen to what everyone is saying. Feel out the culture to determine the correct course of action. Otherwise you’ll end up giving mouth-to-mouth to a very disgruntled, unwilling participant.

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