Am I technical enough? Are my user stories well written? Do I have a product roadmap? These are questions every product manager asks themselves constantly, on their track for the best position and career.
They are important skills that PMs often spend a lot of time learning, refining and advancing. However, being a good PM is much more than a toolkit of hard skills.
Soft skills enable us to work effectively with others. They are the characteristics that enable us to collaborate, communicate, and resolve conflict harmoniously. Soft skills establish an approach of teamwork, an experience of problem-solving, and a strong work ethic while building a business.
The word “soft” can often be misleading, causing most to think that these skills are like extracurricular activities you put on a resume, a “nice to have” quality. But in fact they are the “real” skills product managers need the most.
My approach to hiring Product Managers, whether they are new to the trade and industry or tenured, is to always choose attitude over aptitude. On the surface, the perfect resume may include a degree in Computer Science, a list of software tools used, or maybe they even created their own app as a side project. But it doesn’t tell me if this candidate will thrive.
We can teach how to map a good user journey, put a presentation together, or even basic engineering and coding. But it’s difficult to teach someone how to be empathetic, charismatic, and/or collaborative.
The strategies you are known for shouldn’t include only operational efficiency, and quantitative analysis, but also emotional availability to others and acquisition of the heart.
And engagement shouldn’t be used only to retain customers. The design and sales teams will be happy to feel part of your plan to grow the brand.
I measure the real skills by asking things like:
‘Will they be a team player?’,
‘Are they eager to learn more?’,
‘How do they handle difficult situations?’,
‘Are they amicable and approachable?’
Cause above all, we are human first, we are our job after.
The good news, it’s not too late to learn, just add some curiosity. If you are curious, you have a growth mindset. If you ask yourself questions, challenge yourself, and explore your curiosity you can develop the emotional intelligence you need to be an effective manager.
Things you can ask yourself:
‘Do I actively listen to others?’,
‘How are my colleagues feeling about this?’,
‘What did I learn today that can be applied tomorrow?’
In a recent Product League webinar with Vivek Badi, author of “You: The Product, The real skills you need to be an effective Product Manager”, Vivek shared his strategy, vision, and tool for implementing soft skills.
Vivek believes that the crux of the product role is understanding others and yourself well enough to navigate politics and being comfortable with knowing that not everyone will be your friend, which is why EQ is so important.
He discussed his top 5 ways to increase Emotional Intelligence:
Know the impact your emotions have on others. We are allowed to have bad days, we don’t need to hide it, but let others know it has nothing to do with them or their work. Transparency is a step towards growth.
Vivek Pro Tip: It’s important to self-reflect and ask yourself, “How was I feeling?” or “What was my body language possibly saying?” (in that meeting or discussion).
It’s not about controlling our emotions as much as it’s about regulating your emotions. Figure out what techniques work for you to calm your soul, especially in real time.
Vivek Pro Tip: Building inner circles of people you trust so that you can express, reflect and get feedback. A safe mini-community of your own.
Read Other’s Emotions
The ability to read other’s emotions is a key soft skill. In other words learn how to empathize. Learn how to read body language, tone, and facial expressions, non-verbal cues usually say so much more.
Vivek Pro Tip: Predict noise before a meeting, ask yourself, “If I were in Marketing or Finance what questions might I ask?”
Put yourself in people’s shoes, think how you would feel if the roles were reversed.
Vivek Pro Tip: It’s about “give and take”, so reach out to a colleague who may be having a bad day and see how you can help, it will add value to your relationship.
Always put things into perspective. Whether you are concerned about a failure, or you get bad reviews, learn to recover from setbacks. Further, product leaders can build resiliency by accepting responsibility when things go amiss for the team, simultaneously also enhancing those relationships and creating a process of support and interest in each other’s feelings.
Vivek Pro Tip: Communicate when things go wrong, continue to inspire the team, and talk to your users.
The webinar solidified what I innately knew about EQ and the importance it plays in the PM role, it was especially beneficial to learn how we need to balance our EQ with the emotions of others. I shared with Vivek that when I’m passionate about something, I get very invested, but learning how to take a step back is something I’m still working on.
Vivek agreed, while it’s important to have passion and drive, we need to make a conscious effort to get feedback and perspective from different personas and be curious about those perspectives. He also suggested, not to “get married” to your product because, ultimately, it may come out differently than what you expected.
Acquiring soft skills is real work, it requires us to take a look at ourselves and expand our curiosity. The trendy growth mindset that companies are trying to nurture, is all about cultivating new attitudes and traits.
Start by asking yourself questions and understanding what real skills can be enhanced and are aligned with your values.
Ask your friends what they think are the skills you possess that you should refine and promote. Set goals for yourself, implement one or two of Vivek’s tips and continue to grow from there.
I think one of the best things about being in Product is that we interface with everyone from our shareholders, stakeholders, to the end users. This gives us ample opportunity to grow, learn, give and take. It enables us to up our ante in the EQ department daily which is crucial, because high Emotional Intelligence enables us to take a look at our skillset, our resume, our attitudes, and ask ourselves, do I have enough real skills to be an effective product manager?