People are SO Annoying!

By Denise DeCarlo, PMP

If people would just leave me alone – I know I would get my job done faster, with a high level of quality and efficiently. How many times have you asked yourself that question throughout your project management career? More times than you care to count, right? Well . as project managers, we thrive (and struggle) due to the various stakeholders (a.k.a. – project team members) on our team. Let me share a few scenarios with you to help you understand and appreciate the diverse set of skills that lie within your project teams and how you can leverage these skills to your advantage.

Scenario 1) We are two months into a seven-month project – I started a month “late” on the project due to other project commitments. When I arrived my project team had already been selected and everybody was doing “something” but appeared to be going in different directions. The person who held the project manager position prior to my arrival was not a project manager by profession – but they filled my role valiantly until I could arrive. Let’s call this gracious person, Lionel.

Lionel continues to give the team direction even though I’m now onboard and should be providing direction and leadership to the team members. He frequently sends the technicians down a path without even discussing the ideas and suggestions with me first. He is causing a lot of confusion and frustration amongst the project team. Many team members have come to me wanting to know who they are supposed to take guidance from because they are getting it from me and Lionel and the advice is frequently contradictory. The team members just want to get their job done right the first time and not go back and forth on decisions/directions. Lionel is a very creative person with lots of ideas and thoughts – it’s driving me nuts!

Scenario 2) Your lead architect is frequently going to the customer with her conceptual ideas, without coming to see you first. The customer LOVES the ideas and wants to implement them NOW. To make things worse you overhear this customer saying “Change control, what is change control”?

Scenario 3) You give someone a detailed assignment and they nod like they understand the assignment but then they don’t finish it on time and/or with the level of quality you anticipated. This person is an experienced team member and you’re surprised at their lack of performance.

Scenario 4) It’s noon on Tuesday and you’re ready to leave for a quick bite to eat. Your manager comes to your work area and asks for your help in putting together the report for the Weekly Leadership Team meeting at 4pm. You cringe. This is the 3rd week in-a-row your manager has come to you at the “last minute” to put this report together and they ask for different information each week. You reluctantly agree to help out, but make a point of saying you’d prefer to perform this work in a planned/organized fashion instead of waiting until the last minute. Your manager looks at you with a surprised look! Now, you are surprised too! Your manager explains to you that they thought you’d WANT to be involved so you could get exposure to creating management level reports. You cautiously explain that you would like to contribute, but for you to do it at the last minute is not effective for you. Your manager is surprised because she is very creative under pressure and likes producing the report at the “final hour” – plus she’s able to include current information in the report. You both agree to find a “time” each week to work on the report together so you can get the experience desired without the stress of having to do it at the last minute. She will continue to make last minute adjustments to ensure it reflects what is happening NOW on the project.

Do these scenarios send chills up your spine? Are there people are your project team that are well intentioned, but wreaking havoc amongst your team? Welcome to diversity! Seriously, we all talk about how important diversity is to a team – but when conflict surfaces due to diversity, we shudder with frustration instead of embracing it with excitement! There are people who are going to have ideas and approaches completely contradictory from yours. That doesn’t mean you are right and they are wrong. It means we need to work together as a team to determine the right mix of creativity, project planning, socialization, and team decision making. Sometimes we have to dig deep to begin to understand and appreciate ALL the skills that are brought to bear on a given project team. This doesn’t mean you need to LIKE everyone on your team, but it does mean we need to respect and appreciate the skills (and styles) brought to bear.

All the people. All the diversity. All the problems! I have found over the years that a lack of communication and understanding leads to many problems. The more we begin to understand our team members (including customers) the more effective we become as project managers and leaders. I have found it effective to obtain the following information about key stakeholders on my project team:

1. General background – what is their history and expertise? Seems like something obvious but we have a tendency to assume we know a person’s history based on what they are doing today. Your assumptions may not be valid!

2. Find out what they enjoy about your project – what are they hoping to get out of this project?

3. Determine their level of expertise based on their various job responsibilities. Are there components in their work assignments new to them? Are they a seasoned veteran ready for a promotion? This information is valuable to me as their project manager because it helps me determine how much assistance is appropriate for assignments given and the complexity of the assignments I can delegate.

4. Assess their desire for being stretched. Some people LOVE to be challenged and stretched. Others would just as soon do the same thing (or roughly) each week because they enjoy doing things with which they are familiar. Find out their preferences.

5. Determine what their tendencies are: A) Is the person creative and really good at brainstorming and generating ideas? I call this person a “Questioner”. B) Are they a planner? If you provide them the approved idea or concept, are they great at flushing out the detail to get the job done? (i.e.: they can whip out a WBS in no time and love doing it!) C) Are they an action oriented person who would prefer assignments that are clearly defined and then they “go get the job done”? D) Is the person socially focused? Are they good at working with several different departments to understand and evaluate the best way to implement a solution? Do they enjoy working with others vs. on their own and are they effective at communicating with personnel at all levels of the organization?

If there’s someone on your team that is especially creative – they will likely drive the planner person nuts (and vice versa)! The creative person is busy thinking of all kinds of ways to solve a problem and the planner just wants a decision made to start detailing out the job! If you give an action oriented person an open-ended task and tell them to figure out the best way to get it done – they likely will struggle and get frustrated because they prefer (and need) a lot of detailed information before they can proceed confidently with their assignment. If you give that same assignment to a planner; they will be thrilled! The key to teaming and not getting so annoyed with the various behavior types on a given team is understanding their needs and desires. This includes:

A) Acknowledging the different behavior types that exist – talk about this as a team. B) Understanding what each person’s tendencies are (Planner, Questioner, etc). C) Matching job responsibilities as best as possible with each person’s behavior tendency (Action, Social, Planner, Questioner). D) Realize your behavior tendencies change under stress (watch out!). E) Be honest with each other – but be professional! If someone is annoying you – tell them you are frustrated and why. More than likely they had no idea they were frustrating you and a miscommunication is contributing to the problem.

Are people still annoying me? You bet! But do I leverage our differences? I sure hope so! Any time I get really frustrated with someone on my project team – I take a deep breath and say “ok – what lesson can I learn here?” How can I leverage this person’s skills to my advantage instead of being frustrated by their different style or approach? This is not something that always comes naturally to me, but I find when I do this, my effectiveness as a leader grows! I challenge you to take the person on your team today that you find the most annoying and try to establish a better working relationship with them. Go through the steps specified above and you too will begin to appreciate the diversity on your team!

Denise DeCarlo is President and cofounder of Mindavation. Mindavation provides project management training and consulting, team building, leadership and creativity workshops to improve team productivity. Mindavation can be reached via the web at or by calling 1-866-888-MIND.


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