Same Situation, Different Experience

“Ladies and gentleman, from the flight deck welcome on board. Well, the first half of today’s flight is gonna be bumpy, so flight attendants will be seated until we find that smooth air. Sit back and relax!”

You know it’s going to be bumpy when flight attendants aren’t allowed up. But, as we take off and get to cruising altitude, I tell myself I’ve been in way worse turbulence than this. Being on the window afforded me the ability to see the wing flapping up and down as well as look at the people in my row.

After one especially hard bump, I see the guy next to me has a death grip on the seat and a few beads of sweat on his upper lip. He’s not having a good time. The guy on the isle is sound asleep and half snoring. When the plane shakes enough to move him, he’s annoyed, readjusts and is sleeping again.

Almost three hours later, we finally land. The guy next to me says, “That was something! Thank God that’s over.” I’m curious to know if he’s had an especially bad experience that makes him so nervous, or just not a frequent traveler. I smile but don’t ask. Snoring guy on the isle is still struggling to wake up.

I realize that although we were on the exact same flight, felt the exact same bumps, we did NOT have the exact same experiences. I didn’t like bouncing around but been through worse. Then there was death-grip-guy who was nervous as hell. Lastly, sleeping guy looked more tired upon waking up than when he got on the plane. Three different people. Three different experiences. And that was just our row!

Now let’s shift focus from a bumpy airplane ride to your project team. Each member of your team comes with a level of knowledge and previous experience that brings them onto your project team today. Each is motivated by something extrinsic and intrinsic. They’re all good people, otherwise they wouldn’t be here.

However, when you have an inevitable rough patch in your project, though everyone may be going through the same issues, not everyone is having the same experience. Some may be nervous as hell and think their job is coming to an end everyday. Others may come to work with 52 ideas to overcome the current challenges. Whereas others know this is normal on any project and want to work through it and get back to status quo as soon as possible.

Same issues, different experiences.

So as a leader, what do you do? Well, just being aware that everyone has a different interpretation of the issue is a first step. Someone may have been through something similar before and can roll with the punches. Someone else may have been fired from another company early in their career because the project they were on failed and they’re scared it will happen again. Yet someone else could care less and just keeps working.

Have a conversation with people individually, especially those that have greater anxiety, to reassure them they’re going to be OK. Find out if there’s any “emotional landmines” in their past that causes their reaction today. Recruit those who can role with it to help with those struggling. Gather your team together, explain the issue and engage everyone in mitigation. Once the team has decided on a path forward, move quick to implement and make adjustments as necessary.

Just because we’re all going through the same “stuff”, whether it’s bad flights, project issues, interpersonal challenges, we have have different interpretations and thus, different experiences. Be understanding and empathetic to these issues and listen to those with the greatest fears.

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