What Remote Project Leaders Can Learn From the Buddha

 I may be the world’s least qualified person to talk about matters spiritual, but are there concepts that the average project manager can incorporate into daily work? The short answer is yes: mindfulness.

Why do we need to be mindful? Because when we’re working, it’s easy to run on auto-pilot. We respond to things automatically. You’ve done it a hundred times. You answer an email in about 30 seconds without thinking about what you’re saying then spend two days unraveling the chaos it caused. Someone asks you a question, and you give them an answer that only confuses them more. More importantly, you can make all kinds of assumptions about what your team is working on and how high the quality is, that may be completely false.What do we mean by mindfulness? Let’s use a totally Western, non-touchy-feely definition. Webster’s describes it as: “the practice of maintaining a nonjudgmental state of heightened or complete awareness of one's thoughts, emotions, or experiences on a moment-to-moment basis; also : such a state of awareness.”

We’re not bad people. We just get sucked up in the tactics and functions of day to day work and don’t always take into account what’s going on. We also get more cues that are hard to ignore when we work together. When you walk through the office and see Helen banging her head on the monitor, you’re more likely to check in with her and not assume that everything’s fine, or that monitor-bashing is just her work style. Without visual cues and context, it’s hard to really understand what’s happening without making some effort.

Here are just a couple of things you should take the time to be mindful of:

Are you really listening? We all know that the words people use don’t necessarily tell the whole picture, even when they’re attempting to be truthful. How often have you asked someone to do a task, and received an “okay” without hearing the doubt and panic in their voice? If you’re really listening, you’re interpreting, clarifying and picking up subtle cues that belie the words.

Is this email going to answer the real question? A simple one-word response may deliver the requested information, but does it really help solve the problem? Remember every question contains not only a request for data, but also context, support and confirmation. Ask yourself not just what the person wants to know, but why they want to know, and what they’re going to do with the information. Being mindful of the questions behind the question can save a lot of time and tension.

Can you be mindful of two things at once? When we stop to think about it, the answer is obvious. The problem is we don’t….stop…..to…….think. When you are engaged in a coaching call, focus on the listener. Don’t answer email, don’t sort files on your desk, and don’t put the red Jack on the black Queen (or whatever version of solitaire you’re playing when talking to your people on the phone.)

Read the rest of the article on Management Issues

To learn more about remote team communication, check out The Remote Leadership Institute blog