5 tips to increase Emotional Intelligence as a Product Owner

A Product Owner is constantly balancing expectations from the business, the team, and users. It’s a tough job. You might feel you are doing all the right things, but your team is just not responding. If you feel you are not getting the best results from your team, or perhaps you sense they just don’t like working with you, you might benefit from improving your emotional intelligence.

Emotional Intelligence is the ability to be aware of how your thoughts, speech, and actions impact others, and then use this awareness to manage your behavior and relationships. I’ve heard it described as the “unique intersection between head and heart.” In practice, it’s a combination of using impulse control and social awareness to moderate your behavior.

The following 5 tips to increase your Emotional Intelligence are inspired from Scott Watson’s work, an emotional intelligence speaker and trainer. I hope they will complement what you are already doing well and help you create a tactical plan to improve your emotional intelligence and the emotional climate in your team. You might find that focusing on how your behavior is impacting others can change your relationships – and positively impact your career.

1.     Be more aware of how you manage your mental focus, time, and priorities.

As I work with new Product Owners, I often see the same pattern: Product Owners getting buffeted around by their schedules like a boat in a storm. There’s no rhythm to their day; there’s no breathing room, and therefore no thinking room. They run from meeting to meeting, and they bring the baggage from every previous interaction of the day into the team.

Emotions are contagious. If you go into your team events focused on all the things you are balancing, you will transmit your stress and anxiety to the team. If they pick up on your stress or worry, they will not be focusing on innovation, problem solving, and positive interactions.

There are many sources on time management, so I won’t go into them here. Do your homework – read a few articles and then experiment with time-management tips that allow you to block time during each day to focus on your main priority: Creating value for the user. If you only convey a meaningful goal and a compelling vision for your team, they can do the rest!

Before heading into a team event, center yourself first. Reserve 15 minutes before each major Scrum event so you can be calm, centered, and focused on the goals you want to transmit. The time you give yourself will be reflected in your ability to connect with your team.

Pause here and write down 3 things you are prepared to do to attend your team events relaxed, calm, and focused.  They should be worthwhile and meaningful to you, easy to apply and practical to use.

2.     Intentionally set the emotional climate in your team events.

As a leader, ask yourself what emotional climate would be the most productive for the team? Learn to enter each interaction with your team with a specific intent to warm up the climate by exhibiting positive behavior, excitement, or just better personal interactions.

A way to improve here is to ask yourself better questions throughout the day to help set the emotional climate for the next interaction you will have with a user, stakeholder or your team. This is better accomplished with ‘How’ and ‘What’ questions rather than ‘Why’ questions.

  • What are two things I can do to increase the interest in the team to perform as optimally as possible on a consistent basis?
  • What are two things the team wants to know about the user to understand their pain points and ultimately create innovative solutions?
  • How can I learn from my team during this feature?
  • How could we all enjoy this event more?

At the end of the day, ask yourself a ‘What’ question. What 3 things have gone well today and why is that? This will give validation to the little habits you are creating that are starting to change the climate in your team.

Pause now and write down three questions you can ask yourself in the morning, at lunch, (to set yourself up for the afternoon) and at the end of the day. One tip is to enter these questions as reminders in your phone to prompt you throughout the day of your commitment to boosting your emotional intelligence.

If you find that you are already having great days with your team, ask yourself “Why am I having good days?” If you are consistently seeing success, share your tips with other Product Owners through your Community of Practice or a local user group to reinforce your own improving behaviors.

3.     Words Matter – and so does body language.

Sometimes we are not aware of the language we use or our own facial expressions and how they impact the team. As Scott Watson, an emotional intelligence speaker and trainer says, “We spend all day behind our face.” We don’t get to see what our team sees. And we are not always aware of what their body language is telling us.

You already know that positive language can be transformational and can reinforce learning. You may get stuck with a difficult client or have a regulatory or compliance feature that is just no fun to work on. But with practice you can learn to replace negative scripts with positive, solution oriented approaches. They must be authentic, so this behavior change may require difficult self-evaluation and accountability. Invest in yourself with self-awareness practices so that you understand your strengths as well as your hot buttons and triggers.

As an accountability technique, ask a trusted member of the team to support you by giving you immediate feedback after the event. I’ve used this consistently in my coaching career to soften my delivery and become more aware of the impact my language and tone of voice has on others. My accountability partner helps me identify better ways to phrase things and bring attention to my body language and facial expressions, as well as the body language in the room. Having a personal feedback session directly after an event helped me grow my own awareness and then change my behavior.

Stop for a minute here, and write down three negative phrases you know you have said about clients, stakeholders, or the organization you work for. Take your time, and find three authentic things to replace those phrases with.

If you find yourself slipping into negative behavior, remember that tomorrow is a new day. This is a difficult behavior to break and will take time, attention, self-reflection, and accountability.

4.     Give specific feedback that is worthwhile and creates meaning.

Specific feedback can help the team take personal ownership of their planning and commitment to the work. Don’t give false compliments – if you give hollow statements, they will not be appreciated and can backfire on you. When we say “well done,” or “good job,” or send emails with an emoticon at the end… this is good start, but it doesn’t really help the team grow. While it is important to give positive feedback, if you want to really connect, practice giving specifics.

An easy way to do this is to add a description to the comment that adds value. What made this review fantastic? Point a, point b, point c. With this kind of feedback, the team will build a better understanding of your expectations and you have created a meaningful connection.

Pause here and think back to your last three reviews and retrospectives. Write down the answers to: What was the feedback that I gave my team? How could I have improved my feedback to make it more meaningful?

5.     Pre-framing and reviewing.

Pre-framing and reviewing are common teaching techniques in education environments to create meaning and excitement of what a class is going to be learning. A review helps reinforce learning. These two ideas work just as well in a team environment as they do in the classroom.

Pre-framing is the idea that we discuss what we will be doing in advance, so that when it is time to do the work, the brain is already engaged. Translate this to the value of discussing the next feature to your team in a refinement session. And remember, it is not just what you say but how you say it…. Make it exciting. Bring it to life. Ask a user to come into the team to demonstrate how difficult a particular transaction is so the team can brainstorm solutions together. If it is a new product, ask marketing to help create the interest by sharing why the organization has decided to invest in the upcoming feature. Develop meaningful, measurable goals for the feature together.

When the feature is complete, review the learning by the team, but with a small twist. Discuss at least two things the team learned about the user while developing this feature. If they start to focus on what they have learned technically, help re-direct them to things they have learned about the user. If they can’t, perhaps this is an opportunity for you, as a Product Owner, to help close the gap between the user and the team.

Take a minute here to think of your next upcoming feature. Write down 3 selling points that you can use to develop some excitement and intrigue.

In conclusion…

I hope these tips help create success with your team and let you have some fun exploring your emotional intelligence. The more you enjoy your vocation as a Product Owner, the more your team will enjoy working with you!

As you start to take risks with your team, they may follow your lead and show their vulnerability as well. This is a great opportunity to work hand-in-hand with your Scrum Master so that together, you can further the safe environment that high-performing teams require. Check out my blog for tips for Scrum Masters.

I’m interested to know… what will you do differently as a result of reading these 5 tips?

~Julee Bellomo

Live your truth; hone your craft; show your thanks

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