Project Management

How to Use Neutral Thinking as a Project Manager to Improve Performance

June 4, 2022
2 min and 15 secs
Ben Willmott

Don't let emotions impact your performance

There have been so many times when I wished I had used neutral thinking as a Project Manager. ⁠⁠

⁠⁠The most obvious is getting a crappy email from a client or a not particularly helpful teammate or manager, and I've sent an angry or defensive reply straight away.

I've done this without thinking about the following;

"Why have they sent this email?"

"What are they dealing with right now to cause this response?"

"What is the best solution to solve this issue?"

I've just responded in the moment with emotion.

Then the next day, you look at that email in your sent items and think, I wish I could turn back time and respond differently.

As a Project Manager, you need to get the right balance between being too optimistic (not realistic) and overly negative (fixed mindset and not focusing on how to resolve an issue, just blaming others)

What is neutral thinking?

Neutral thinking is the ideal mindset for a Project Manager as it means accepting that when something bad happens, it happens. Instead of getting caught up in the negativity, you take it for what it is and move on.

As a Project Manager, something will go wrong on your project, whether that's your mistake, teammates, a disruptive client, or something entirely out of your control.⁠⁠⁠⁠

Neutral thinking helps you take a step back, remove your emotion in your reply, and in some cases, ignore your pride and do what's best to help resolve it at that moment.

It's not always easy to do this, as emotions are sometimes tough to control, especially if you're tired or really busy.

To help, just create a quick checklist you always refer to when a problematic situation arises.

Here's what I use to help me gather my thoughts on providing a neutral response.

  1. Do I need to respond immediately, or can it wait for when I have time to review in more detail?
  2. What emotional state was the sender in when they sent this?
  3. Is the sender under pressure from a manager or in their role, which would make them send this?
  4. What's the one thing I could do to help the sender right now?
  5. What are the key subsequent actions to resolve this situation?
  6. What could have caused this type of response?

You don't need to ask yourself all of these, but it helps to take a moment and check your list so you can respond in a professional, helpful and neutral manner.

So create your list, and keep it accessible to call on it when you need it.

The Bottom Line

So utilise neutral thinking when you have moments that trigger the wrong emotions in you. If you respond neutrally, it will not only help your team or client, but you'll feel much calmer after you've done it.

Ben Willmott
Ben is Delivery Director at the London based creative agency Wunderman Thompson where he creates bespoke ways or working for his clients and teams. Ben is also the founder of The PPM Academy specializing in coaching Project Management, Agile Delivery and how to be more productive at home and work.

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